We’ve regularly discussed how getting enough sleep is a vital part of self-care and maintaining overall health, especially as we age. Deep sleep is a critical component to keeping our minds and bodies functioning efficiently — it reduces stress and helps protect against serious health problems like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure. But new research suggests that a lack of proper sleep may cause permanent damage to the brain.
In a recent study performed on lab mice, scientists found that mice who were kept awake for a prolonged length of time experienced the kind of brain activity that is found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. We know that the brain clears out toxins linked to Alzheimer’s during sleep, and repeatedly waking up during the night can cause a buildup of these toxins. Another study performed by the University of California at San Francisco on a large sample of veterans found that veterans with sleep disorders like sleep apnea or insomnia were 30 percent more likely to suffer dementia than those without such problems.
Alzheimer’s isn’t the only disease linked to sleep issues — the Canadian Association for Neuroscience recently found that a lack of sleep is connected to Parkinson’s. Researchers discovered that 80 percent of people who suffer from REM sleep disorder eventually develop neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and dementia.
Although these studies are not enough to establish a direct, causative relationship between disordered sleep patterns and neurological damage, the findings are enough reason to reevaluate our sleep habits, especially as we age. And even if such serious diseases never develop, research shows that the lack of proper sleep is related to other neurological problems that can greatly affect a person’s quality of life.
HOW SLEEP DEPRIVATION IMPACTS MOOD
Sleep and mood are closely related – we’re all familiar with the irritability that can follow a restless night. But chronically not getting enough rest can have a dramatic impact on our brain’s ability to stabilize emotions. Sleep problems are found in 90 percent of people with depression, and are often one of the first symptoms to appear. In one study of 10,000 adults, people with insomnia were five times more likely to develop depression. And the risk for developing anxiety is even greater: in the same study, people with insomnia were 20 times more likely to develop a panic disorder.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Quality sleep is essential throughout the entirety of our lives. As we age, sleeping is often more difficult, but it doesn’t mean it’s less important. If you’re struggling to get a full night’s sleep, consider modifying your habits. Small changes to your routine to address common sleep issues can dramatically change sleep quality.
If you continue to struggle despite your best efforts, it may be time to speak with your doctor to uncover the underlying problem and get treated. An estimated 50-70 millions Americans suffer from a recognized sleep disorder, according to the American Sleep Association. Of that number, nearly 22 million have sleep apnea, with a large percentage of cases remaining undiagnosed.
If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, or suspect you may have the condition, effective treatment will help you regain your health. Contact Dr. Kent Smith at Sleep Dallas to learn more about sleep apnea treatment options.