Tips for Better Sleep You Can Try Tonight (That Can Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease!)

Young Black woman laying happily in bed wearing an eye mask.

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When it comes to getting things done, a popular adage is to “work smarter, not harder.” The same is true for sleep, and this is why: sleep is vital to maintaining your brain and bodily functions. Getting enough good quality, restful sleep also helps you boost your immune system, keep your cognitive functioning sharp, and help reduce your risk of injuries or accidents. 

Sleep’s role in maintaining a healthy brain is well documented— in fact, keeping your brain healthy is one of the main reasons why you need a good night’s sleep! Recent studies have demonstrated how important sleep is for mental functioning even beyond eliminating brain fog and keeping your memory sharp— one of these studies has also found that not only does a lack of sleep affect you in the short term, but long-term sleep problems can increase your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.

Thankfully, you can keep your brain healthy both short-term and long-term by getting restful, healthy sleep each night. Before we dive into my tips for better sleep, let’s take a look at the new studies I described above.

How Poor Sleep Impacts Your Brain Health

A study published in the journal Science that was reported on by Scientific American observed the effect that sleep deprivation has on the production of essential brain proteins. Using animal models, the study presents even more evidence why maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and honoring your personal chronotype is so important to your health.

Your circadian rhythm helps build synaptic proteins used for healthy cellular functioning. Your body has two peak times for synaptic protein production: The first is late in the evening when you’re starting to feel drowsy, and the other is right before you wake up.

These proteins produced at night regulate the production of other essential proteins, and those created during the early mornings govern healthy synapse functioning. By going to bed on time— especially according to your chronotype— you will ensure peak production of these helpful proteins.

On the flipside though, sleep deprivation interferes with the production of these important proteins. In the study, the brains of the sleep-deprived mice still created the instructions for the proteins, but not the proteins themselves— kind of like a printer trying to print without paper.

So by knowing your chronotype and going to bed at the best time for you, you’ll help ensure that your brain produces the necessary proteins in healthy amounts.

If you want to find your ideal sleep schedule but don’t know your chronotype, I recommend taking my Chronoquiz.

Long-Term Sleep Problems Linked to Alzheimer’s and Dementia

A large-scale study from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has found an interesting connection between sleeping too much and long-term sleep deprivation and the risk of dementia.

This study observed the United States’ Hispanic population and their sleep habits over a seven-year period. Researchers looked at the data on over 5,000 participants, ages 45 to 75, during the nationwide Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos. They found that lack of sleep as well as prolonged sleep— sleeping for nine hours or more— were linked to declines in memory, mental processing, and executive functioningsuch as focus, planning, paying attention, and regulating emotions. The declines in each of these crucial areas may be indicative of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as your risk of developing them.

Insomnia was more likely to be linked with memory issues, while prolonged sleep was more often associated with poor mental reaction times and decreased reasoning skills. However, it was unclear whether the sleep problems led to cognitive decline, or if the cognitive decline caused the sleep problems.

According to this study— the first to really look at sleep issues in this particular demographic— Hispanics are one and a half times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than Caucasians are. However, before anyone worries that the combination of their ancestry and their sleep issues are going to inevitably lead to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the study’s findings are indicators of risk, not a guarantee that you’ll develop dementia if you consistently sleep poorly.

How are Poor Sleep and Alzheimer’s Disease Connected?

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still a mystery, but it’s very clear that poor sleep quality plays a role.

People with Alzheimer’s or dementia have more beta-amyloid proteins in their brains, which form function-inhibiting plaque, as well as tau proteins that form tangles in the brain. Stages 3 and 4 of your sleep cycle help the brain remove these proteins during the night— essentially taking out the trash. Poor quality sleep, disruptions in slow-wave sleep, and lack of sleep have all been linked to greater amounts of one or more of these proteins, which over time contribute to reduced cognitive function, Alzheimer’s, and dementia.

For more information on this topic, I recommend checking out my article about the Science Behind Alzheimer’s Risk and Poor Sleep.

So if there’s one thing that you can take away from this information, it’s that good quality sleep is one of the best ways to prevent cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s Disease, and dementia.

How to Create a Bedtime Routine That’s Good for Your Brain

Poor sleep habits are a surefire way to get insufficient sleep each night. However, healthy sleep habits can not only help you get better sleep, but it’s good for your brain too!

The Alzheimer’s Association has shared their list of non-drug treatments for sleep changes for Alzheimer’s patients— you’ll find many similarities between my core advice for better sleep and what they recommend for struggling with the illness. Consider giving these sleep tips a try if you’re looking to improve your sleep and keep your brain sharp.

  • Maintain a Regular Sleep Routine: Going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same every morning— even on the weekends— keeps your circadian rhythm in order and helps you produce those vital proteins I talked about earlier. Remember to incorporate relaxation techniques into your evening routine too— a relaxing bedtime routine will help you reduce stress and drift off to sleep much easier.
  • Get 15 Minutes of Sun in the Morning: Your circadian rhythm, which helps your brain produce melatonin, is largely influenced by light. By getting 15 minutes of sun in the morning, this helps your brain reduce how much melatonin it produces so you can feel awake and ready to take on the day, and more ready to rest in the evening when your brain naturally produces more melatonin.
  • Get Your Daily Exercise: Regular exercise is great not only for your overall health, but for your sleep health too. Try to avoid exercising within a few hours of your bedtime though— that can actually make it more difficult to fall asleep on time.
  • Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol: Stop drinking caffeine at least six hours before bedtime, and avoid alcohol within three hours of bedtime. Caffeine’s stimulant effect can keep you awake past your intended bedtime, and alcohol can cause or worsen snoring, as well as contribute to sleep disorders like sleep apnea.
  • Make Sure Your Bedroom Is a Comfortable Temperature: Between 65 and 75 degrees is the optimum temperature for sleeping. If you tend to sleep hot, or if you are experiencing heat issues related to menopause, Chilipad can help keep you cool.

For Better Sleep, Try The Power Down Hour

These next tips don’t appear on the Alzheimer’s Association’s website, but I think they are worth including— especially if you want to create an effective bedtime ritual. One of my favorite ways to do this is with the Power Down Hour, where you divide the last hour of your day into three 20-minute sections and use that time to prepare your body and mind for sleep.

  • During the first twenty minutes, finish any of your day’s unfinished business. This can include small tasks like taking out the trash, walking the dog, et cetera.
  • The second twenty minutes should be spent doing something relaxing, like journaling or chatting with family members.
  • The last twenty minutes should be used for personal hygiene, like brushing your teeth and washing your face. A warm bath is also a great way to unwind and get ready for a good night’s sleep.

Try to avoid using your electronic devices during the Power Down Hour— the blue light from their screens can inhibit your brain’s natural production of melatonin. Alternatively, you can use blue light blocking glasses to help reduce blue light exposure before bedtime and help your body produce the melatonin you need to rest well.

Good Sleep Should Be A No-Brainer

You shouldn’t wrack your brain over how to get a good night’s sleep. Remember, the key to good sleep is being consistent in your bedtime and wake time each day, and having good sleep hygiene that helps set the tone for a good night’s rest. Unless you have an actual untreated sleep disorder, good sleep is a habit that we can all develop.

Give these tips a try if you’re trying to get a better night’s sleep! Sometimes it really is the little changes that make the biggest difference.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM

The Sleep Doctor

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Michael Breus, Ph.D - The Sleep Doctor is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan and Good Night!

2 thoughts on “Tips for Better Sleep You Can Try Tonight (That Can Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease!)

  1. Thanks so much for this info. I have read that both Infrared Lamp and/or Full Spectrum assist the body to naturally produce its own Melatonin. Is this true? I hope you can shed some light on this. This would be helpful in the winter months or on rainy mornings when there is No morning sun. Thanks for your reply.

    1. Hi Linda!

      Thank you so much for your email! I haven’t written about this topic in a while but wanted to share a blog that I wrote on the topic of light and lack of sun.

      I hope you find it helpful! Join my email list for more information about sleep and health!

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