THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON sleep

Canadian Living - - Health -

Af­ter a good night’s sleep, you feel alert and ready to tackle the day. But that’s not just be­cause your brain has been rest­ing. It has also been busy fil­ing away mem­o­ries and tak­ing out the trash, so to speak, thanks to the glym­phatic sys­tem, which washes the brain of waste ma­te­ri­als. For ex­am­ple, a pro­tein called be­taamy­loid, which is known to play a role in the de­vel­op­ment of Alzheimer’s, acts as a neu­ro­toxin when it builds up, killing neu­ral cells in the brain. But a good sleep re­moves ex­cess beta- amy­loid and other waste ma­te­ri­als, says Dr. Liu-am­brose.

Be­cause one of the com­mon symp­toms of Alzheimer’s is dis­rupted sleep, it’s un­clear whether a lack of shut- eye should be con­sid­ered part of the pro­gres­sion of the dis­ease or a risk fac­tor on its own, due to the buildup of beta- amy­loids.

Nev­er­the­less, poor sleep has­tens your brain’s ag­ing process— much like sit­ting in the sun sans SPF speeds up your skin’s ag­ing process. And dis­turbed sleep­ing has been linked to all as­pects of brain health, in­clud­ing an in­creased risk of de­pres­sion and a de­cline in cog­ni­tive func­tions such as mem­ory and rea­son­ing. In one U. K. study out of Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don Med­i­cal School, mid­dle- aged women who re­ported a drop in the av­er­age num­ber of hours they slept had lower scores on cog­ni­tive tests in­volv­ing rea­son­ing and vo­cab­u­lary.

What’s more, our cen­tral clocks— a. k. a. our cir­ca­dian rhythms— can drift from the pat­terns of our child­hood, mak­ing it hard to get that much- needed rest. “As we age, our cen­tral clock is less sen­si­tive to stim­uli like light, food and phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity,” says Dr. Liu-am­brose; this change makes it harder to fall, and stay, asleep. We can also be­come more vul­ner­a­ble to stress and anx­i­ety, which fur­ther dis­rupt those rhythms.

One way to com­bat these fluc­tu­a­tions is to try what sea­soned trav­ellers do for jet-lag re­cov­ery: Get ex­po­sure to real day­light and eat your meals on time to nudge your brain into a rou­tine. And don’t use bright screens at night, es­pe­cially be­fore bed, be­cause they mimic sun­light and tell our cir­ca­dian sys­tem that it’s day, not night—and, there­fore, not time to sleep. Those who need more help might con­sider light ther­a­pies that have been de­vel­oped to treat sea­sonal af­fec­tive dis­or­der, says Dr. Liu-am­brose.

The Take­away: Many re­searchers con­sider six to eight hours of sleep a night to be the stan­dard sweet spot, though this can vary by in­di­vid­ual. If you’re rou­tinely get­ting less than that and wak­ing often in the night, not feel­ing refreshed in the morn­ing and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing bouts of sleepi­ness dur­ing the day, talk to your doc­tor about sleep strate­gies— es­pe­cially if you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing anx­i­ety or de­pres­sion. In the short term, nap­ping can re­verse some of the ef­fects of poor sleep, in­clud­ing mem­ory loss and in­creased stress. And you only need a 30- minute cat­nap to feel the re­sults.

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