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Getting a Good Night's Sleep

As a first step towards acceptance of the changes in my husband [after his diagnosis] I made a phone call to the Alzheimer’s Society of Calgary to sign up for a course. After explaining my intent, and before anything else was said, the person on the other end of the phone asked, “How are you doing?” So unexpected, so sincere, so compassionate, so moving. We chatted for a long time.

- A person who reached out to us

Getting a Good Night's Sleep

Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

This sponsored article is brought to you by Right at Home Canada

Sleep is so essential. Poor sleep may play a bigger role in Alzheimer’s disease than previously thought. We’ve long known that sleep and memory retention are interconnected, but researchers at UC Berkeley found that not enough sleep was linked to an increase in beta-amyloid. Beta-amyloid is a toxic protein that forms plaques in the brain, blocking and disrupting long-term memory.

 

The findings reveal a new way Alzheimer’s affects the memory of people later in life. A build up of beta-amyloid is suspected to be a major player in the pathology of Alzheimer’s. Before this, memory loss was only associated with Alzheimer’s destruction of brain cells.

 

A build up of beta-amyloid has not only been found in Alzheimer’s patients, but separately, in those who report sleep disorders as well. According to one researcher, “the more beta-amyloid you have in certain parts of your brain, the less deep sleep you get and, consequently, the worse your memory.” Additionally, “the less deep sleep you have, the less effective you are at clearing out this bad protein. It’s a vicious cycle.” Since researchers aren’t sure whether the protein or the poor sleep begins the cycle, a different group of older adults are going to be studied over the course of the next five years.

 

The positive side of this research is that we can potentially change and improve our sleeping habits before it’s too late. Sleep washes away toxic proteins at night, which prevents them from building up and allows the brain to unrestrictedly use the cortex (long term memory storage) rather than the hippocampus (short term). With Alzheimer’s, a telltale marker is usually an atrophy of the cerebral cortex, but using that part of the brain can possibly prevent the atrophy in the first place. Furthermore, a deteriorated cortex has been linked to poor sleep in elderly subjects. Again, there’s a vicious cycle. It’s all interconnected, which is why improving your sleeping habits earlier in life could have dramatic benefits later on.

 

According to the NIH, older adults suffer from insomnia not because they cannot fall asleep, but because they have trouble remaining asleep. Once woken, older folks tend to remain awake unlike their younger counterparts. Insufficient sleep not only correlates to Alzheimer’s, but also to an increased risk of falling. Falls pose a threat to physical wellbeing and are the number one cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) for all ages. Certain types of TBI can increase the likelihood of developing dementia later on, even years after the initial injury.

 

The NIH recommends these following tips to combat sleeplessness:

 

Reduce the time spent in bed when not sleeping.  
Try to establish and stick to a regular wake/sleep schedule, even if feeling drowsy or lethargic during the day.
Make sure the bedroom is at a moderate temperature. In order to fall asleep, the body must first cool itself down so a too-warm room is particularly problematic for those who have trouble sleeping.
Limit intake of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine in the hours preceding bedtime.
If there is a problem falling asleep, get out of bed and try to distract yourself with a relaxing activity like reading.
Limit television, computer use, and cell phone use while lying in bed directly before sleeping.
Exercise daily, but not in the hours preceding bedtime. Physical activity is a great weapon against sleeplessness.

 

With the appearance of millions of baby boomers on the senior scene, understanding the way Alzheimer’s functions becomes more important than ever before. Since baby boomers will make up the largest population of seniors in history, Alzheimer’s should be at the forefront of our public health concerns. Any step taken towards preventing Alzheimer’s is a step in the right direction.

This article was written by Matt Gottlieb on behalf of Right at Home Canada. Right at Home is a leading provider of in-home companionship and assistance for elderly and disabled adults. 

For support and information on how Right at Home can assist your loved ones with their care, please call 403-869-8294 or visit www.rightathomecanada.com/calgary