Can Sleep Prevent Alzheimer's?

SPECIAL FROM We all know that eating well and exercising can help your brain function, but new research suggests that how much you sleep could have an impact on whether or not you get Alzheimer’s disease.

A research study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed the sleep patterns of a group of adults over age 70 and found that those who slept for shorter amounts of time and had poorer sleep quality, had higher levels of Beta amyloid, a brain plaque that is an indicator of Alzheimer’s. That’s not to say that if you don’t get enough sleep, you’re destined to get Alzheimer’s disease, but there does seem to be a link between the two.

“These findings are important in part because sleep disturbances can be treated in older people. To the degree that poor sleep promotes the development of Alzheimer’s disease, treatments for poor sleep or efforts to maintain healthy sleep patterns may help prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer disease,” says Adam Spira, PhD, lead author of the study and an assistant professor with the Bloomberg School’s Department of Mental Health.

So can sleep prevent Alzheimer’s?

Researchers aren't yet certain. “The Hopkins study is an important confirmation of the association between poor sleep and increased amyloid in the brain, a sign of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Neal Barnard, M.D., a medical researcher, adjunct professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine, and author of Power Foods for the Brain.

“The next step is to test this in human participants—to see if correcting poor sleep habits helps reduce Alzheimer’s incidence.”

So while the research is out, what can you do to help your brain stay healthy when it comes to sleep? Dr. Barnard’s advice: “Sleep is your brain’s best friend. It is on a par with healthy eating and good exercise. Sleep is when the brain consolidates memories. With poor sleep, memory erodes substantially.”

If you have problems getting a good night’s sleep, Dr. Barnard suggests foregoing common sleep aides, which can "cause marked short-term memory deficits" and trying these tips instead:

  • Cut out caffeine, protein, and other foods that can disrupt sleep.
  • Go easy on alcohol, which can initially make you sleepy, but can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Exercise during the day. Doing physical activity during the day means you sleep better at night, he says.
  • Yawn and stretch. Make this your going-to-bed routine: About a half-hour before bedtime, open your mouth to simulate a big yawn. Reach out your arms and give them a good stretch. At first, you’re just going through the motions. But do this four times—a big yawn and a stretch each time. You’ll soon trigger a genuine yawn and a deep-muscle stretch. Then notice what this does to the quality of the sleep that follows. What you will discover is that something about stretching and yawning prepares the body and brain for sleep.


Foods For Brain Health