Prevention is the best form of medicine and preventing disease is ultimately my goal as a doctor. It’s much easier to put in the work now and prevent future illness than try and reverse it once it’s developed. So many chronic diseases are largely preventable (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers, etc.). One incredibly simple way to improve your health and prevent disease is simply by sleeping. No fancy supplements or expensive medications, sleep.
Today I wanted to discuss some interesting research on Alzheimer’s disease and sleep. Cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are becoming increasingly more common as our population ages
As of 2017, 5.5 million American’s have AD (1)
One in ten people age 65 and older has AD (1)
AD is the sixth leading cause of death among those age 65 and older (1)
The good news is, there is evidence that preventative strategies can reduce the risk of AD by as much as 50%. And you guessed it, one of those preventative strategies is good old fashioned sleep!
First, you need to understand a little about Alzheimer’s development. The disease is characterized by amyloid plaque formation in the brain. These plaques are created by a protein called amyloid beta. How is this affected by sleep? Being awake is associated with increased amyloid beta production and sleep is associated with decreased amyloid beta (2). One study found that even one night of sleep deprivation is related to increased amyloid beta (3). Additionally, in mouse studies, short term sleep deprivation increases amyloid beta and chronic or long term sleep deprivation increases amyloid plaques. Another recent study supported the hypothesis that sleep quality affected amyloid beta and Tau levels (4). Tau is another protein involved in AD development.
What to do if you can’t sleep:
Cut caffeine: Definitely stop drinking caffeine in the afternoon. But also consider that even morning caffeine can affect those who are very sensitive. The best way to know is to cut it out for a few weeks and see if you sleep better. If you love coffee, I get it; it is delicious. Switch to Swiss Water Processed decaf which you can find at most health food stores and many grocery stores.
Don’t use screens at night: the blue light inhibits melatonin production. If you have to be on your computer late at night, download f.lux, This program blocks blue light and turns your screen an orange hue when the sun goes down. Night shift for iPhone is a similar concept.
Keep a bedtime: Going to bed at a set time every night helps your body keep a normal circadian rhythm.
Work out in the morning: exercise increases cortisol production which can disrupt sleep. Do your best to work out in the morning.
Supplement wisely: Talk to your functional medicine doctor about what herbs or nutrients are right for you.
Functional Medicine Testing for Sleep Disturbance:
Diurnal cortisol: this test looks at your cortisol production throughout a full day. Elevated nighttime cortisol can cause sleep disruption.
Melatonin: this is your sleep hormone. If you’re not making enough, you won’t be getting restful sleep.
Organic acid testing (OAT): This test looks at stress hormone and neurotransmitter issues which can affect sleep and energy.
Sleep study: If you suspect you have sleep apnea or other sleep disturbance ask your doctor to order a sleep study.
Until next time, sweet dreams.