Restful sleep is required for us to store and save our memories. If you are not getting enough sleep each night, you may be at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This is something that I feel equally applies to many other chronic diseases as well.
In a recent study published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers at University of California, Berkeley, found evidence that poor sleep, specifically a deficit of deep sleep, is associated with a buildup of the beta-amyloid protein. Excessive deposits of beta-amyloid are the primary suspects in the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, as this toxic protein ends up attacking the brain’s long-term memory.
This correlation between sleep, beta-amyloid, memory, and Alzheimer’s disease has been growing stronger. Sleep is when our body repairs itself. Quality sleep prevents these toxic proteins from accumulating and destroying brain cells. A buildup of beta-amyloid protein has been found in Alzheimer’s patients as well as in patients with sleep disorders. A study from University of Rochester in 2013 found that the brain cells of mice shrunk during non-rapid-eye-movement (non-REM) sleep to free up space for the cerebrospinal fluid to wash out toxic metabolites such as beta-amyloid protein.
Overall, the results of the new study demonstrated that the more beta-amyloid you have in certain parts of your brain, the worse your memory. In addition, the less deep sleep you get, the less effective you are at clearing out beta-amyloid protein. Researchers do not know yet which of these two factors – the poor sleep or the build-up of beta-amyloid protein – begins the cycle that triggers this cascade.
This is a new pathway linking Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss, which is significant since we can do something about it, since poor sleep is treatable and can be improved by modifying sleep habits. It is important that you go to sleep around the same time every night. When the timing of your sleep is shifted even if the duration of sleep is the same, it’s not going to be as restorative. In addition, avoid watching TV or using your computer before bed. Computer screens (smartphones and laptops) emit light in the blue part of the spectrum. This doesn’t cause a problem during the daytime, but at night, this blue light limits the production of melatonin. As a result, it disturbs your sleep-wake cycle. There are free apps you can install on your computer if you absolutely need to be on your computer at night that adjusts colors in a way that reduces the stimulating effects of blue light at night.
Caffeine and other stimulants can also keep you up and interfere with sleep. It is best to avoid these four to six hours before bedtime. Finally, try to workout earlier in the day. Exercise increases cortisol and can make falling asleep very difficult.
If behavior and lifestyle modifications are not enough, there are herbs-botanical agents and nutrients that can significantly promote restful sleep.
Passion flower, skullcap, lemon balm, German chamomile, valerian root, hops leaves (strobules) are all calming botanicals used for centuries to help with insomnia. They have all been shown to decrease the amount of time it takes to fall asleep as well as improve sleep quality. Caution: any sleep aid can become emotionally habit forming. You should not become reliant on any “mother’s little helper.” Because valerian and hops can be very strong, I strongly discourage their regular, ongoing use – i.e. not more than two nights per week. I prefer to recommend an herbal formula of equal parts passion flower, skullcap, lemon balm, and German chamomile!
The amino acid L-tryptophan stimulates production of the calming neurotransmitter seratonin which has been clinically proven to reduce stress and improve the quality of sleep. The amino acid L-gaba lodges at the gaba receptor sites which has been clinically proven to reduce stress and improve the quality of sleep. The amino acid L-theanine, derived from white or green tea (Camilla sinensis), has been clinically proven to calm, relax, reduce stress, and improve the quality of sleep.
Melatonin is a hormone whose primary role is in controlling the body’s circadian rhythm. While adequate levels of melatonin are essential for quality sleep, its production declines significantly as we get older, often causing sleep difficulties associated with aging. Thus, supplementing with melatonin has been shown improve sleep quality. In addition, 5-HTP can further support endogenous or internally produced melatonin production during the night to help with staying asleep.
Inositol is a member of the B vitamin family that promotes relaxation and helps maintain the proper metabolism of serotonin. It is worthwhile to read about the minerals calcium and especially magnesium to help relaxation. I also often recommend a whole B-complex to be taken during the day with or after a meal that contains good protein.
Learn more in both our Certified Clinical Master Herbalist (CCMH) Program which is on Wednesday nights and our NHI Certified Nutritionist Consultant (CNC) Program which is on Tuesday nights. You can join either or both programs at anytime – the sooner the better – or take individual modules or nights. See our NHI Schedule for more information.