It’s one of the most frightening diseases the modern world currently has to contend with, and now it’s getting even scarier.
New research shows that the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia could be sped up by disturbances in sleep patterns, especially those caused by insomnia, late work shifts and additional health conditions. Scientists at Temple University’s School of Medicine released the data this week after a series of experiments performed on laboratory mice over eight weeks.
Researchers compiled a large group of mice, including those that had been aged to the human equivalent of 40 years, then broke it up into two distinct segments. The first was given ample time to sleep while the second was exposed to excessive amounts of light, significantly curtailing its sleep schedule.
The result? Nothing that could be measured right away. So, the researchers began testing the mice’s memory functions.
“At the end of the eight weeks, we didn’t initially observe anything that was obviously different between the two groups,” researcher Domenico Praticὸ says. “However, when we tested the mice for memory, the group which had the reduced sleep demonstrated significant impairment in their working and retention memory, as well as their learning ability.”
Specifically, the sleep-deprived mice were found to have, as The Huffington Post puts it, “more tangles in their brain cells.” As the animals continue their normal functions, these tangles can cause discord between brain cell signals, leading to confusion and even severe impairment from dementia and Alzheimer’s down the road.
In other words, not getting enough sleep was incredibly detrimental to the memories of the mice — and there’s a concern that the same could be true for humans. That’s bad news for the nearly 70 million Americans who suffer from chronic sleep problems, especially those who have to attend jobs at odd hours in order to stay employed. All this data comes concurrent with another study from the University of Pennsylvania that found a possible link between deficient sleep schedules and lasting brain damage.
Past studies have shown that the average American gets around seven hours of sleep per night. That can be plenty, but the key, according to these latest findings, is to keep it consistent. Of course, it’s always easier said than done, especially with so many other sleep-related issues to contend with.
Luckily, there’s time to help better your sleeping habits. Experts recommend getting plenty of exercise, switching to a better bed and practicing deep breathing techniques to help calm both your mind and your body before jumping in the sack. Most importantly, don’t sleep until your body tells you it’s time to shut out the light.
“Background noise that’s pretty consistent, or music, can be very helpful,” explains Danny Rivera, owner of Mattress Market Outlet in Leesburg, Florida. “Don’t drink before bed, and you won’t have to get up and go to the bathroom. As you get older, be sure to make your sleeping habits consistent. For people that are 60 and up, a short nap during the day will help them to sleep better at night, because they won’t be so tired.”