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Sleeping Well May Lead the Way to Lasting Brain Health

We all know that getting a bad night’s rest makes for a difficult next day. And it turns out that if you’re a chronic bad sleeper (getting 6 hours or less sleep per night) you may be increasing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is thought to be caused by the abnormal build-up of proteins called amyloid in and around brain cells. Studies suggest that poor sleep patterns are associated with the presence of amyloid plaques in cognitively healthy individuals. Just one night of sleep deprivation can increase the levels of amyloid in the brain.


New studies show that we need “deep sleep” to clean out the toxins in our brain. We have what’s called a glymphatic system—this is the brain’s waste management system. It gets rid of waste and cycles nutrients like glucose, lipids and amino acids through the brain. The thing is: the glymphatic system works mostly when we’re in deep sleep and is inactive when we’re awake.

There is more evidence that developing good sleep habits can help you get a solid night’s sleep and can improve your overall health.

Tips for improving your sleep:

  • Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Keep this same schedule on weekends too. If you have trouble sleeping at night, avoid napping during the day. And give yourself enough time to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Get comfortable. Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and relaxing and that the temperature is comfortable. As you approach bedtime, set a peaceful mood. Relax by reading a book or listening to music or to your favorite podcast.  
  • Shut off. Get rid of all the technology in your bedroom. No electronic devices allowed—including TVs, screens, laptops or phones. If your sleep is disturbed and you do wake at night, don’t turn on screens. You’ll only stimulate your brain, making it harder to get back to sleep.

We need “deep sleep” to clean out the toxins in our brain.

  • Avoid stimulants. Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine can all interfere with sleep. Stop drinking coffee at a reasonable time in the afternoon and avoid consuming alcohol in the evenings. Manage your meals by keeping to a consistent schedule and not overeating. 
  • Get Moving. Incorporate exercise into your daily wellness routine. Being physically active during the day will help you fall asleep more easily at night. Be consistent with this as well: while you may want to vary your workouts to keep things interesting, try to maintain the same time to work out each day.
  • Proper light. Regular exposure to 40Hz gamma light therapy can make falling asleep easier and may reduce sleep-wake cycle disturbances in cognitively healthy people as well as those with dementia. Get outside and enjoy daylight during your waking hours—this will ease day and night reversal problems.

While many unknown answers remain, ongoing research is helping us better understand the relationship between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease. Not everyone who is a bad sleeper will develop dementia. But we know that too little sleep can lead to other diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and depression—all three are known risk factors for Alzheimer’s.

It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep does to set you off on the right foot for your day. Now it turns out that a good night’s sleep may also be a key indicator of preventative wellness and brain health.

Learn how music, light, exercise, and meditation can elevate your brain health.