This is the fourth of a six-part series on brain health from Deborah Schrameck, NC, PT, of the Eisenhower Wellness Institute. Preceding articles may be found here.

Do you try to get a full night of sleep, but still get up in the morning feeling exhausted? Do you find your energy drags in the afternoon and you feel scatterbrained or irritable? About 33% of Americans and 45% of the world’s population do not get enough sleep. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention calls this issue a “public health problem.”

Disrupted sleep or sleep deprivation is associated with a host of conditions including diabetes, cancer, stroke and cardiovascular disease. If that isn’t bad enough, there is a link between lack of sleep and reduced cognitive health.

Why should we get between 6.5 – 9 hours of sleep per night? There are five stages of sleep: stage one is light sleep; stage two is when the body begins to prepare for deeper sleep, including stages three and four; and stage five is REM sleep. These stages repeat in 80- to 120-minute cycles about five times per night.

In the first part of the night during stages three and four, growth hormone is secreted and this is when the physical body repairs. During the last third of the night with extended stage five, REM sleep, mental restoration occurs. If you wake up early or cut off one of these cycles, you might cut into the deep sleep for physical repair (nagging injuries) or cut off the REM sleep cycle, leading to cognitive issues.

In July 2017, a study in the journal Neurology published that people, who get less REM, or dream-stage sleep, may be at higher risk for developing dementia.1 In April, Neurology published research that disturbed sleep leads to higher levels of the protein that forms the sticky plaques that kill brain cells and bog down information processing.2

In the deepest REM stage of sleep, the brain cleans itself of plaque and other toxic materials that trigger cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. This repair process is important during sleep to reduce brain inflammation.

Sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts, has been proven to trigger loss of brain function. In a research study from the University of California, San Francisco, they found that older women with sleep apnea are twice as likely to develop dementia within five years than those without it.3

What can we do?

  • Be consistent with your sleep schedule even on the weekends.
  • Drink water first thing in the morning to help flush built-up toxins from the previous night; wait for your coffee.
  • Exercise outside in the morning and get direct sunlight.
  • Limit caffeinated drinks.
  • Recognize the signs of sleep apnea and get tested. These include snoring (with pauses), daytime sleepiness and agitation during sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Keep your bedroom dark and cool.
  • Stop using blue screens and electronics at least one hour before bed.

We all feel the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Do everything in your power to support your brain by getting to bed and getting to sleep.

Deborah Schrameck is a wholistic kinesiologist, health coach, nutritional counselor and personal trainer currently working with the Eisenhower Wellness Institute, AcQpoint Acupuncture & Wellness Center and the La Quinta Resort and Club.

References: (1) Neurology (July 2017), Sleep architecture and the risk of incident dementia in the community:; (2) Neurology (April 2017), Poor sleep is associated with CSF biomarkers of amyloid pathology in cognitively normal adults:; (3) Journal of American Medical Association (August 2011), Sleep disordered breathing, hypoxia, and risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia in older women: https://jamanetwork com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1104205.

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