Those of us in the middle of life know that our days are filled to the brink and our nights are often continuation of our days. Between work emails that keep coming past 6 p.m. and activities for our kids or community — not to mention all the distractions of social media or must-see TV — few of us are getting the quality sleep we need. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults age 26 to 64 should get 7-9 hours of sleep and our elders should get about the same, 7-8 hours.
Besides benefits such as looking amazing, researchers have found that poor sleep patterns can cause depression, anxiety, diabetes and weight gain, disorders that impact African Americans excessively already. New research, however, show that poor sleep might also increase risk for Alzheimer’s. It’s not just that people with Alzheimer’s are poor sleepers, but the absence of quality sleep among younger and middle-age adults can result in a build up of toxins in the brain that are linked with Alzheimer’s.
It works like this: during deep sleep the brain flushes out the toxins that can lead to a buildup of amyloid plaques – the sticky substance found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, according to brain scientists at the Oregon Health & Science University. People who are not getting enough sleep are robbed of that nightly cleansing. Jeffrey Iliff, one of the chief investigators of this theory, explained to NPR, that clean, clear cerebrospinal fluid normally on the outside of the brain recirculates into and through the brain along the outside of blood vessels. This process allows the brain to clear out toxins, including those ones linked to Alzheimer’s. “That suggests at least one possible way that disruption in sleep may predispose toward Alzheimer’s disease,” he told NPR.
Iliff and his team have done studies on mice, but are about to launch a new study to clarify what is happening in humans.
So what should a person with poor sleep do? Reaching for sleep aids is not the answer, scientists say, because they won’t help you achieve that deep sleep you need. It might take a few days to get it just right, but the Sleep Foundation recommends these tips to help you get into the right sleep routine:
- Stick to a sleep schedule, even on weekends so you aren’t constantly readjusting
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual (such as meditation or prayer)
- Exercise daily (which also help with keep obesity and other Alzheimer’s-causing cardio vascular issue at bay)
- Make sure your bedroom is a good temperature (cooler is better), is quiet and as dark as you can get it (hint: remove or cover up the lights from electronics, including alarm clocks)
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine and other hidden sleep stealers
- Turn off electronics before bed
Because getting a good night’s sleep is easier said than done, the Sleep Foundation suggests giving yourself a few days to get into your new routine: “The most effective tactic is to make small changes slowly. If you’re trying to go to sleep at 10:00pm, rather than midnight, for example, try this: For the first three or four nights, go to bed at 11:45pm, and then go to bed at 11:30pm for the next few days. Keep adjusting your sleep schedule like this. By working in 15-minute increments, your body will have an easier time adjusting.”
The sleep experts also say you should dim as many lights as possible and turn off bright overhead lights before bedtime. Avoid computers, tablets, cell phones, and TV an hour before bed, since your eyes are especially sensitive to the blue light from electronic screens, something our ancestors did not have to deal with. Either turn your mobile phone off or put it in another room. Another trick is to program your mobile phone so that all communication, including calls, is quieted after certain hours; you can make exceptions for certain numbers so you don’t miss true emergency calls but talk to those folks about the meaning of the word emergency (hint: not your bff telling you about a date).
In the morning, open up the curtains or blinds or have your morning coffee outside or near windows so the sun can help you wake up.
Make sure you enforce the same rituals for your teens or younger kids. Imagine what a lifetime of poor sleep due to incessant mobile phone notifications will do to their brains. Be a parent and take the electronics away until morning.
Get other tips here on eating before bed and what to do about the snooze button.