The Link Between Insomnia and Alzheimer’s Disease

A recent study has indicated that poor sleep may not just be a symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease, but also a contributing factor. Research indicates that poor sleep may cause an increasing number of amyloid plaques to build up in the brain, and these plaques are associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Scientists took measurements of the brain waves of 26 older adults who did not have Alzheimer’s while they were sleeping. They found that the ones who did not sleep well had brains with more amyloid plaques in them than did the ones who slept well. The researchers also found that the adults who slept poorly and had amyloid plaques did worse on memory tests administered both before and after sleep.

How does sleep deprivation cause brain damage?
The brain needs sleep in order to maintain metabolic homeostasis. Prolonged wakefulness stresses the mitochondria in our cells, and sleep deprivation cases neurons to degenerate.

In one study involving mice, the scientists kept them on an inconsistent and erratic sleep schedule akin to that experienced by many human shift workers. The mice suffered significant and irreversible brain damage, for 25 percent of the neurons in their locus coeruleus decayed. The locus coeruleus is a part of the brain stem that controls wakefulness, arousal and some cognitive processes. Scientists have also found that the brain shrinks over time in someone who doesn’t get enough sleep. The process is quicker and more severe in people over 60.

In addition, the lymphatic system and the brain’s glial cells work together to clean toxins and waste out of the brain. They do most of their work at night. In fact the glial cells and lymphatic system are ten times more active during a person’s sleep than during their waking hours. Among the toxins they clear out are proteins linked to Alzheimer’s.

Researchers studied yet more mice and divided them into two groups. One group was exposed to 12 hours of darkness and 12 hours of light while the other group was exposed to 4 hours of darkness and 20 hours of light. Both groups were bred to develop dementia and had amyloid plaques, but the second group displayed more and more severe memory problems. The researchers concluded that insomnia is a trigger of the processes that cause dementia to develop.

Sleep problems in the US

Many Americans sleep poorly. Forty percent of the country’s adults have reported falling asleep during the daytime without meaning to, and another 5 percent have reported falling asleep while driving. Some people do have sleep disorders, but many others simply don’t go to bed early enough.

Other health problems caused by insomnia
Lack of sleep affects the immune system in the same way that chronic stress and illness do. Sleep deprivation increases the chances of developing certain chronic illnesses. For example, the risk of developing high blood pressure is tripled in people who sleep less than six hours per night. Insomnia also increases the chances of developing cancer, slows down neuron production in the brain, and contributes to premature aging.

Tips for getting a good night’s sleep

  • Stop watching TV or using the computer an hour before bedtime.
  • Sleep in complete darkness.
  • Keep the temperature in the bedroom below 70 degrees. The optimal temperature for sleeping is between 60 and 68 degrees.

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Tips for Better Sleep

Getting better sleep seems to be something many people in busy Silicon Valley should focus on. Not being able to sleep is frustrating, and lack of adequate sleep can  lead to serious health problems. Your body needs at least 6 hours of sleep every night in order to be active again the next day.

Sleep allows you to rejuvenate, and to fight off colds, viruses and disease. It allows you to function well the next day. It can even help you have a more highly functioning, fat burning metabolism.  Test subjects in an American Journal of Epidemiology study who slept less than seven hours a night were more likely to gain weight.  Other research has shown that even partial sleep deprivation increases the production of ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger.

In order to get to sleep and/or stay asleep some people will take take prescription sleep aids or over the counter medications.  If you’re troubled by poor sleep or not enough sleep, hold off on the pharmaceutical help and try a few of these ideas first.

Tips for Better Sleep

  • When it comes to sleep, the more routine, the better.   Make an effort to go to sleep at the same time each night.  If you’re not getting 6-7 hours, begin creating a situation at home that allows you to slowly transition your bedtime routine to begin earlier.
  • Create a small buffer of time to “segway” into sleep.  Turn off your phone and your computer.  STOP WORKING. Create some sort of 10-15 minute ritual that will signal your body to begin to shut down and relax in preparation for sleep.  This might be a hot bath, reading in a quiet room, meditation, listening to relaxing music or reading a short chapter of a book.  Sometimes before I go to bed, I put on some soothing scented lotion before putting my PJs on, and I do a 5-6 minute stretching routine on my bedroom floor.  Other times I’ll read for about 15 minutes.  This creates a nice segway between the hustle and bustle of household activities and allows me to wind down clear my mind.  This “routine” also signals my body that it’s time to sleep.
  • If you think about work at night, write out tomorrow’s “To Do” list well before bed and put it away somewhere (like your laptop case) .  When you put it away, tell yourself that you’re shutting down from your brain being on work.  Let it go until tomorrow.
  • If you like tea, try having a cup of decaffeinated Chamomile tea about 1 hour before bed.  Chamomile can have a calming effect on many people.
  • Avoid eating too close to bedtime.  Being really full when you lie down is uncomfortable (and might lead to gastric reflux if you’re prone to it).  By the same token—don’t go to bed starving.  This is a surefire way to wake up in the middle of the night!
  • Consider black-out curtains if you find that light coming into your bedroom window affects your sleep.
  • If you have a hard time falling asleep, try adding a drop of lavender oil (available at Whole Foods Market) on your pillow at night might help you fall asleep faster .
  • If you aren’t currently exercising, consider beginning a regular exercise program!  People who exercise tend to have better quality sleep.  Just make sure that you don’t exercise vigorously too close to bedtime, as this might make it harder to wind down.


If you’re local to the San Jose, Campbell or Los Gatos area, give us a call at 408-265-1540 or check out our San Jose boot camp schedule and grab yourself a FREE one-week trial at one of our boot camps.  We’ll get you in shape AND help you get better quality sleep!




Remember, a good night’s sleep always helps to keep you healthy by giving your mind and body time to replenish. Use the tips above to help you wake up each morning feeling refreshed and ready for the day ahead.

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