MENLO PARK, Calif., June 8, 2018 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ -- Sleep is as important to our health as good nutrition and regular
Our brains don't sleep when we do. During waking hours, the brain is bombarded with more stimuli than it can process. When we go to sleep, the brain goes to work, making order out of chaos and archiving memories for later retrieval. It does this by strengthening critical neural connections, discarding unimportant ones, and solidifying new memories.
"We've all noticed, and research has confirmed that 'sleeping on it' helps us recall a newly learned task," says Dr. Dimitriu. "This explains why people suffering memory deficits can recall a name from forty years ago but not what they had for lunch yesterday. Their brains have become less efficient at making new connections and storing new memories. Better sleep may improve this key brain function."
As with every organ in the body that converts fuel into energy, the brain produces waste that accumulates during waking hours and is cleared out while we sleep. There is more space between brain cells while we're asleep, making it easier for cerebrospinal fluid to flush out toxins. Researchers are just beginning to understand this cleansing process – called the glymphatic system – but it appears that the more waste that's littering the brain, the easier it is for degenerative diseases to take hold. Among these waste products is beta-amyloid, the toxic protein best known for its presence in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease. The glymphatic system, which becomes less efficient as we age, does its work while we sleep, raising the possibility that better sleep can improve the processes that flush beta-amyloid and other toxins from the brain.
Older adults with dementia suffer sleep disturbances that have generally been considered a consequence of diseases such as Alzheimer's. Now researchers are looking into whether sleep problems might themselves be a risk factor for cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer's. In a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health, it was found that losing just one night of sleep led to an immediate increase in beta-amyloid in the brain. These beta-amyloid proteins clump together to form the amyloid plaques that impair communication between neurons and are a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Dimitriu notes: "While previous studies have shown that sleep deprivation elevates the level of beta-amyloid proteins in the brains of mice, this is one of the first to show that sleep may play an important role in clearing beta-amyloid in the human brain. This is an important step in helping us understand the pathology of Alzheimer's and potentially how to prevent it."
Reversing cognitive decline "We are seeing more and more evidence that sleep plays a critical role in maintaining brain function as we age," Dr. Dimitriu continues. "The question of reversing cognitive decline by improving sleep is another interesting avenue for investigation." A 2014 study tested a novel therapeutic program for reducing mild cognitive impairment based on the idea that clinical trials in pursuit of a "magic bullet" drug have yielded little but that a combination of therapies that address multiple targets in the underlying pathology of Alzheimer's might have an additive or synergistic effect. The program included life style changes, including sleep optimization, as well as a regimen of medication and supplements designed to optimize metabolic factors implicated in Alzheimer's, correct imbalances, reduce beta-amyloid, and more. "The study was small but showed impressive results," says Dr. Dimitriu. "Clearly this combination approach shows promise."
Improving sleep Everyone has trouble falling asleep occasionally. For most of the millions of Americans who regularly struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep, improving sleep habits can restore a restful night's sleep. Dr, Dimitriu makes these recommendations:
"We've long known that sleep is important for overall health and especially for brain function," Dr. Dimitriu concludes. "Now, as we uncover the mechanisms at work, we have the opportunity to make great strides in preventing and treating cognitive decline and degenerative disease."
Alex Dimitriu, MD, is double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and is the founder of the Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine Center in Menlo Park, CA. http://www.doctoralex.com
SOURCE Dr. Alex Dimitriu
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