Sleep: A Powerful Weapon Against Dementia

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For many Americans, the word dementia brings to mind a confusion of symptoms with no clear cause or prognosis. Dementia is an umbrella term for a wide variety of brain disorders that affect functions like memory recall, mental clarity, emotional control, and communication. The most widely known form of dementia is Alzheimer’s, a progressive disease in which proteins and fibers build up in your brain, destroying cells and blocking nerve signals.

Dementia is the fifth leading cause of death, impacting over 50 million people worldwide and sadly, so far, there is no cure.  Treatment is limited to symptom management, offering little hope for reversal or recovery.

Despite this bleak picture, advancements are continually being made in dementia research. Since reliable treatment options for dementia are limited, many scientists and institutions are looking toward prevention instead. There are countless factors involved in brain health, and many can be managed through simple lifestyle changes. The beauty of a prevention mindset is that it gives us the power to influence our future health on a daily basis, with simple and cost-effective choices.

Clinical neuropsychologist Sharon Naismith is working with Centres of Research Excellence to study the link between sleep and dementia. Evidence shows that while we sleep, the body is doing some of its most important work. During rest, the brain eliminates waste, draining proteins, fibers, and toxins that build up throughout the day. It also files our memories, making them available for future use.

This is particularly relevant information, given that 30% of Americans report sleeping for six hours or less a night. We must prioritize sleep that is adequate in both quantity and quality. It seems harder than ever to do that, culturally. Technology makes it easy to maintain extended work hours, provides entertainment at any point of the day or night, and is difficult to escape from—it is all around us. Taking these factors into consideration, it’s no wonder that both sleep deprivation and its associated health complications, such as dementia, are on the rise.

The good news is that we can work to reverse these trends in our daily lives. The best time to start is now. Dementia begins to progress long before symptoms ever present themselves, sometimes up to twenty years in advance. Often, by the time a patient shows up in their doctor’s office with complaints of a foggy memory and mental confusion, the time for effective treatment has passed. Dementia must be managed long before it shows up.

If you suffer from inadequate sleep, we have great news for you; there are many simple ways to set yourself up for quality rest. Pick one or two of the following tips, and begin supercharging your brain health tonight:

Tips For Better Sleep

Set a sleep schedule and stick to it

Going to bed at the same time each night and waking at the same time each morning teaches your body what to expect. As the body acclimates to this rhythm, your hormone levels will adjust as well; this will give you another layer of support in falling and staying asleep.

Create a screen-free nighttime ritual

Your electronic devices emit blue light that stimulates your brain to stay engaged. Power down 1-2 hours before you plan to go to bed. Wind down with a warm bath, a good book, a conversation with a loved one, or a gentle yoga flow.

Exercise daily

Expend your body’s energy stores during the daytime so that you’ll have less remaining at the end of the day. One caveat: vigorous exercise is a great way to promote sleep, but make sure to do it at least three hours before bedtime. The attached endorphins can work against you if you try to fall asleep too soon after your workout.

Light Exposure

Get plenty of bright light exposure during the daytime, and opt for dim lighting in the evenings. The human body is designed to regulate sleep based on light. In an ideal world, our circadian rhythm would help us sleep while it’s dark and wake when it’s light. However, our modern world makes it possible to override that mechanism. We can support the circadian rhythm by leveraging our light exposure.

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