Not getting enough sleep has almost immediate effects. You feel sluggish, can’t focus, dying for a nap and (sugary) snack to pick you up. However, usually all of these symptoms disappear after a solid night’s sleep. But have you ever wondered what missing on those ZZZ’s on regular basis does to your body, and most importantly, your brain?
According to the latest research conducted by the University of Eastern Finland, difficulties in initiating or maintaining sleep are associated with an increased risk of dementia*.
Dr Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading Nutritionist explains in her new book Natural Solutions for Dementia and Alzheimer’s (www.marilynglenville.com) “Too little sleep increases your risk for Alzheimer’s because beta-amyloid protein is cleared away during sleep when your cerebrospinal fluid washes out toxins from your body.” This basically means that the shorter you sleep, the less time your body has to get rid of beta-amyloid plaque build-up, which is toxic to neurons in the brain and can eventually cause Dementia.
Your sleeping position matters
Getting good amounts of good-quality sleep is crucial (aim for six to eight hours uninterrupted sleep every night). However, according to Dr Glenville your sleeping position also matters. “When you sleep on your side, your body seems more able to remove the build-up of so-called ‘brain waste’ chemicals, such as beta- amyloid proteins, that are thought to contribute to this and other neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s.”
If you are not already sleeping well, you should look at your bedtime routine. Poor ‘sleep hygiene’ is the most common cause of insomnia and disturbed sleep. “Your busy, active brain needs to be treated like a dimmer switch and allowed to wind down slowly. Ideally, you should allow about 40 minutes to switch off with whatever relaxing routine you find most helpful”, says Glenville.
But before you do any of that, you need to switch off your TV, phone and tablet – at least an hour (ideally two) before you intend to go to bed. Marilyn says, “This is not just about bombarding your brain with information just before you try to sleep, there are physical factors at work: backlit screens emit blue light that interferes with your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates your body’s circadian rhythm, the 24- hour rhythm of day and night.”
As it goes, exposure to bright light of any colour before bed will suppress your melatonin production. However, the blue light is worst of all. “Studies show that sitting in bright light compared to a dim light delays melatonin onset and shortens melatonin exposure by up to 90 minutes – that is, it takes a full hour and a half for the effects of bright-light exposure to wear off and melatonin to kick in and make you feel sleepy” Dr Glenville adds.