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Alzheimer’s disease risk could be lowered by getting deep sleep at night

Alongside other lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise, how much sleep we get every night is known to have an impact on our health and wellbeing.

While the amount of sleep we get is key, new research has found that the quality of sleep can also play a role.

A study, published in BMC Medicine, revealed that deep sleep could help prevent memory loss in older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous research has linked disrupted sleep with quicker accumulation of beta-amyloid protein – a plaque known to raise the risk of Alzheimer’s – in the brain.

But the new research from a team at the University of California found that superior amounts of deep, slow-wave sleep can act as a protective factor against memory decline in those with existing high amounts of beta amyloid.

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Zsófia Zavecz, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Berkeley’s Centre for Human Sleep Science, said: “People should be aware that, despite having a certain level of pathology, there are certain lifestyle factors that will help moderate and decrease the effects.

“One of those factors is sleep and, specifically, deep sleep.”

As part of the study, 62 healthy older adults who did not have dementia slept in a lab while researchers monitored their sleep waves with an electroencephalography (EEG) machine.

Researchers also used a positron emission tomography (PET) scan to measure the amount of beta-amyloid deposits in the participants’ brains. Half of the participants had high amounts of amyloid deposits; the other half did not.

After they slept, the participants completed a memory task involving matching names to faces.

Those with high amounts of beta-amyloid deposits in their brain who also experienced higher levels of deep sleep performed better on the memory test than those with the same amount of deposits but who slept worse.

Senior study author Matthew Walker said: “Think of deep sleep almost like a life raft that keeps memory afloat, rather than memory getting dragged down by the weight of Alzheimer’s disease pathology.

“It now seems that deep non-REM sleep may be a new, missing piece in the explanatory puzzle of cognitive reserve.

“This is especially exciting because we can do something about it. There are ways we can improve sleep, even in older adults.”

Ms Zavecz added: “One of the advantages of this result is the application to a huge population right above the age of 65.

“By sleeping better and doing your best to practise good sleep hygiene, which is easy to research online, you can gain the benefit of this compensatory function against this type of Alzheimer’s pathology.”

How to improve your sleep

In light of these findings, Doctor Shireen Kassam – founder of Plant-Based Health Professionals UK  – spoke to about how to boost the quantity and quality of your sleep.

“Restorative sleep of seven to nine hours a night is essential for maintaining brain health and function, allowing the brain to detoxify, organise thoughts and lay down memories,” she said.

“Various disorders of sleep, such as sleep apnoea, are associated with an increased risk of dementia and there is a bidirectional relationship such that individuals with dementia can develop sleep disorders.

“Industrialised, Western societies do not prioritise sleep enough in our ever increasing 24/7 culture. Yet the consequences may well be serious later in life.”

To help ensure good quality sleep, she recommended:

  • Maintaining a regular sleep schedule
  • Avoiding daytime naps and if you do nap keep this to less than 30 minutes
  • Making sure your bedroom is at a cool temperature, around 15 to 19C
  • Ensuring your sleep in a dark room without noise
  • Avoiding bright lights in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning
  • Avoiding heavy, carbohydrate-loaded meals two to three hours before bedtime
  • Minimising screen-time/use of electronic devices in the evenings and avoid after 9pm
  • Avoiding caffeinated drinks and alcohol after 3pm.

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