In people over the age of 65, Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of disability. It can leave you stuck in a nursing home, dependent on others and without even the memories of the people you love.
No wonder it’s a diagnosis we all fear.
In Alzheimer’s, toxic proteins such as beta amyloid and tau build up in your brain. Researchers think that that’s what sets the condition off in the first place.
Now, a new study has shown that there’s a specific system in your body that could keep that from happening — if you get enough of the right type of sleep that is.
Your brain’s lymphatic system
Your body’s lymphatic system is responsible for helping to get rid of the bad things that buildup in your body — in essence flushing them away.
That’s why when you get sick and the system is working over time, you can get swollen lymph glands in your neck and other places in your body.
Most people don’t know that your brain has a lymphatic system too. It gets rid of toxic waste that can damage it — like those beta amyloid and tau proteins. It’s called the glymphatic system and it wasn’t even discovered until 2012.
Basically, it’s a system of plumbing which piggybacks on your blood vessels and pumps cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) through your brain tissue to wash away waste. Studies have shown that the system primarily works while you sleep.
This led scientists at the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center to wonder whether certain types of sleep improve its function and therefore work to prevent Alzheimer’s.
The deeper the better
The researchers conducted experiments with mice, using six different types of anesthesia to simulate levels of sleep. They then tracked their brains’ electrical activity, cardiovascular activity and the cleansing flow of CSF through the brain.
They found that deep non-REM sleep is optimal for function of the glymphatic system, helping it to wash away waste and toxic proteins.
“Sleep is critical to the function of the brain’s waste removal system, and this study shows that the deeper the sleep the better,” said Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., co-director of the Center for
Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and lead author of the study.
“These findings also add to the increasingly clear evidence that quality of sleep or sleep deprivation can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
Better sleep, better memory
This means that if you want to preserve your memory and prevent Alzheimer’s, getting enough deep, non-REM sleep is vital.
Unfortunately, it can also be challenging since sleep often becomes increasingly lighter and more disrupted as age.
But there is good news…
In a fortunate twist of fate, another recent study found the answer to that problem — rocking.
Researchers at the University of Geneva in Switzerland found that the slow continuous motion of rocking while you sleep can help you fall asleep faster and spend more time in non-REM sleep.
You can achieve this by sleeping in a hammock, purchasing a bed that rocks/sways or using a device to retrofit your current bedframe to rock.
Other ways to support your memory as you age include:
- Keep learning — According to Harvard Health, challenging your brain with mental exercises can help keep your memory sharp and maintain brain cell health and communication.
- Eat a balanced diet — Focus on good fats, fruits, veggies and fish and eliminate trans fats from your daily diet.
- Stay active — Blood flow is good, especially when it comes to the health of your brain, so keep moving and exercise regularly.
- Take a brain booster — Phosphatidylserine works like food for your brain, promoting a healthy memory and clearer cognitive function.
Keep your brain sharp and your glymphatic system working optimally to prevent memory loss from Alzheimer’s by using the brain-health tips above.