As we learn more about ways to potentially avoid dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as we age, a recent study finds that getting a good night’s sleep just might be the most important thing we can do. Our brain cells produce toxic waste products each day as they work. While we sleep, the brain literally flushes out this stuff. But scientists have found that older people who get poor sleep may have more of the plaque that is suggestive of Alzheimer’s disease in their brains. The findings, published online on Oct. 21 in the journal JAMA Neurology, revealed that during sleep there are changes in the brains of lab mice that help flush out toxins such as beta amyloid produced by brain’s neurons in active circuits. They note that those with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) have been shown to spend more time awake and have higher levels of fragmented sleep, compared with those who do not have the disorder. The study analyzed data from 70 adults with an average age of 76 years, taken from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. All participants were free of any form of dementia. The participants were required to self-report their sleep patterns, disclosing the average hours of sleep they had each night, how often they woke throughout the night, whether they had trouble falling asleep and whether they woke earlier than planned. The participants reported sleep duration ranging from no more than 5 hours, to more than 7 hours each night. When comparing sleep duration with brain imaging, it was found that shorter overall nights’ sleep duration and poor sleep quality were linked to increased plaque build-up. Another interesting finding – the number of times a person woke during the night did not lead to an increase in beta-amyloid build-up
This is a HUGE finding. Why? Because late-life sleep disturbance can be treated, interventions to improve sleep or maintain healthy sleep among older adults may help prevent or slow AD to the extent that poor sleep promotes AD onset and progression.
How much sleep is enough? According to U.S. News & World Report, the presence of plaque on participants’ brains increased among those reporting five or fewer average hours of sleep per night. How much sleep should the average adult be getting, and what qualifies as a good night’s sleep? The National Institutes of Health suggests that the typical senior citizen requires between 60 and 90 fewer minutes of sleeping time than an adolescent, who usually requires about eight hours per night.