Believe it or not, dementia and diabetes have something in common. The risk of contracting one or the other (or both) increases significantly when we fail to do this consistently enough: sleep.
Let’s face it – most of us do not get enough sleep. In fact, the American Sleep Association reports that 50-70 million US adults have some type of sleep disorder. Studies have shown that persistent lack of quality sleep when you are a young adult to middle adulthood will come back to haunt you later in life. Poor sleep is tied to an increased risk of contracting diabetes, dementia, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
Diminished Sleep Can Lead to Dementia and Alzheimer’s
You need sleep to cleanse your brain and remove harmful waste products. New research has found a system called the glymphatic system, which removes the waste your brain produces. Sleep is critical to the removal of the waste. The study shows that the deeper you sleep, the better.
The glymphatic system works by compressing brain cells and pumping cerebral fluid into the brain. The cerebral fluid cleanses out waste products, one of which is the protein beta-amyloid, found to be connected to the onset of Alzheimer’s.
As we age, sleep generally becomes increasingly lighter and more disrupted. Disrupted sleep impairs the ability for the glymphatic system to adequately cleanse the waste products, which could explain increased risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s as we become older. Disrupted and inadequate sleep lead to increased levels of tau in the cerebral spinal fluid. Abnormal accumulations of tau are believed to be responsible for creating the neurofibrillary tangles found in the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients.
A Harvard University research group interviewed nurses over a six-year period about their sleep habits, memory and thinking skills. The study found that nurses who slept five hours or fewer (too little sleep) and those that slept 9 hours or more (too much sleep) had worse performance on brain testing. Researchers estimated that under-sleepers and over-sleepers were mentally two years older than the women who received seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
Sleep directly affects how we acquire new information, how we sort and consolidate it, and our ability to access or recall the information consciously and unconsciously. The Harvard study points out that these steps are necessary for proper memory function.
While the Harvard study could not make a general, definitive correlation that too little or too much sleep causes memory or thinking problems, previous research has linked poor sleep to higher risks of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. People who are persistently sleep deprived are more likely to have high blood pressure and narrowed blood vessels, which decrease the flow of blood inside the brain. Brain cells need lots of oxygen and sugar, so blood flow problems could affect their ability to function properly.
Diminished Sleep Duration Linked to Higher Risk of Diabetes
Sleep disruption has been linked through a number of studies to metabolic disorders, including obesity and Type-2 diabetes. Research shows that with poor sleep, the risk of developing Type-2 diabetes triples.
One study took healthy young adult volunteers and disrupted their sleep for three nights. After the three nights of poor sleep, the volunteers all showed signs of decreased insulin sensitivity and reduced glucose tolerance similar to people who suffer with Type-2 diabetes.
Another Harvard University study of 60,000 nurses found 1,797 cases of diabetes 8 years after the original study began. When the sleep patterns of the nurses were analyzed, the results showed that those nurses who slept five hours or less were 1.43 times more likely to get diabetes than those who managed to sleep seven hours nightly. The researchers determined that persistent short sleep times and frequent changes in the total amount of sleep in early to middle adulthood are associated with a higher risk of having Type-2 diabetes later in life.
Key Steps to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep to Diminish Your Risk of Dementia and Diabetes
While it is easy to understand the importance of getting enough sleep to lower your risk of future dementia or diabetes, managing to get proper sleep can be a challenge, especially in today’s environment.
Here are some steps you can take to improve your chances of getting a good night’s rest:
- View your bed and bedroom as a sanctuary – make sure your bedroom is cozy and inviting. Use your bed only for sleeping or intimate activities, not arguing or watching television. Keep a boundary that your bedroom is only for you and your loved ones, not strangers. This will hopefully create positive associations with being in your bedroom and a feeling of safety, helping to reduce anxiety.
- Go to bed at the same time – it is important for your circadian rhythm that you go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time as often as possible. Make disruptions in your sleep schedule the exception, not the rule. This will help regulate your body to fall asleep more easily.
- Avoid electronic devices an hour prior to bedtime – several studies have shown that the blue light from electronic devices suppresses melatonin and interferes with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Exercise during the day – getting enough exercise has been shown to help you fall asleep. However, be sure not to exercise close to bedtime, as that may give you a second wind and energize you. It is recommended that you avoid exercise up to three hours before bedtime.
- Be mentally healthy – studies have shown that individuals with anxiety, high levels of stress, or PTSD often have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Being on high alert due to psychological stress interferes with sleep. See a therapist to help you work through these challenges and regain your peace.
Getting enough sleep is extremely important for your present-day health and your future health. To diminish your chances of having dementia or diabetes when you get older, set a goal to get seven to 8.5 hours of sleep nightly and then change your bedtime routine to ensure you meet your goal.