Adequate sleep is an important key to brain health


Did you get enough sleep last night? How much is enough? And how does sleep impact the brain?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults of all ages need about the same amount of sleep each night: seven to nine hours for adults 26-64 years of age and seven to eight hours for ages 65 and older.

Adequate sleep is such an important key to brain health that the Alzheimer’s Association has listed it as one of the top 10 ways to “love” your brain.

While sleeping, the brain is preparing for the next day by forming new pathways that help in learning and remembering information. Studies have shown that a good night’s sleep can improve a person’s ability to learn new skills, gain new insights into difficult problems, and even be more creative.

Researchers have recently studied the relationship between sleep and amyloid protein, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Multiple studies have demonstrated that amyloid concentration in the brain dips during sleep and peaks during waking hours. Using this information, they hypothesized that shorter sleep duration and poor sleep quality are both associated with greater amyloid buildup. The findings backed up that hypothesis.

But what if sleep doesn’t come easily?

The concept of good sleep hygiene has become more popular in recent years. It refers to a variety of habits that contribute to good quality sleep. They include:

• Set a daily bedtime and waking time — and stick to it.

• Follow the same bedtime routine each night.

• Avoid excessive napping during the day. The term excessive is different for each person. If a long nap makes it difficult to fall asleep at night, shorten it.

• Exercise during the day. Plan to finish tough workouts several hours before bedtime.

• Sleep in a comfortable bed in a dark and quiet room.

• Avoid heavy meals, caffeine or alcohol in the evening.

• Turn off electronics.

• Incorporate relaxation practices such as meditation or deep breathing into the bedtime routine.

High-quality relaxation resources are available free of charge on many university websites. Often, the purpose of these resources is to encourage young college students who are learning to live independently to balance sleep with school, work and a social life. However, these resources are useful for all ages.

Take a few minutes to explore the following:

• MIT Medical School’s Sleep Resources. This site includes print and audio download for sleep, stress and anxiety, bit.ly/2lJn5ul.

• Dartmouth Relaxation Resources. This site offers relaxation, guided imagery and deep-breathing exercises, bit.ly/2aZ6RXq.

• University of California Los Angeles. This site provides guided meditations in both English and Spanish, bit.ly/LKnnua.

• University of Utah School of Medicine. This site offers recommendations for books, apps and blogs on sleep and insomnia, bit.ly/2koALKX.

If practicing good sleep hygiene isn’t enough, talk with your doctor or pharmacist about common medication side effects. He or she may recommend that you change the timing schedule (perhaps taking some meds in the morning) or prescribe a medication that has fewer sleep-related medication.

Chronic pain that results from a variety of chronic health conditions can also decrease quality sleep. Working with a doctor to manage pain through physical therapy, massage, alternative therapies or medication may also improve sleep.

The doctor may also recommend a sleep study to rule out sleep apnea. If left untreated, sleep apnea, or pauses in breathing during sleep, can lead to increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke and brain health. Some studies have suggested that untreated sleep apnea during midlife increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in later life. If the sleep study identifies sleep apnea as an issue, follow the doctor’s recommendations to manage the condition, thus reducing the other risks associated with it.

Adequate sleep is just one strategy that researchers have shown relates to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. To learn more about other research-based strategies that are relating to brain health throughout adulthood, join the monthly Brain Health lunchtime workshop series on the fourth Thursday of each month from 12 to 1 p.m. at the Community Services Building on the University of Hawaii Maui College campus. This series is sponsored by UH Manoa Extension and Alzheimer’s Association and is offered free of charge. For additional information, contact 244-3242, ext. 226.

* Heather Greenwood-Junkermeier is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Aging and Intergenerational Programs. Today’s column was written jointly with Lynsey Capone-Smith, Maui program specialist with Alzheimer’s Association Aloha Chapter. “Aging Matters” covers topics of interest to the aging Maui community and appears on the third Sunday of each month.


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