Elizabeth Saenger, PhD
Alzheimer’s disease causes certain kinds of protein to build up in the brain. As this build-up increases, a person’s sleep-wake cycle changes more and more. Changes often include:
- more naps
- a harder time sleeping through the night
- sundowning (irritability, restlessness, and confusion as the day stretches into evening).
However, the link between sleep and Alzheimer’s is a two-way street. Alzheimer’s interferes with sleeping, but sleep habits affect Alzheimer’s.
A habit of not getting enough sleep increases the build-up of a protein that may cause Alzheimer’s. As a result, scientists think that if people tend to stay up late every night, night after night, and year after year, they increase their risk for Alzheimer’s. Sleep deprivation might also make Alzheimer’s worse in someone who has it.
Tips for Better Sleep
These tips might help improve sleep.
1. Avoid bright light at least two hours before bedtime. Bright light contains blue light. Blue light greatly reduces the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. When the Light You See is Not the Light You Want explains how you can avoid blue light.
2. Get exposure to light first thing in the morning. Getting exposure to light as soon as you wake up helps reset your cycle of circadian rhythms. This helps counter the damage Alzheimer’s does to your circadian rhythms, which are responsible for your sleep/wake cycle. If it is hard for someone with Alzheimer’s to get outside, using light therapy indoors will help,
3. Try to limit naps, especially in the late afternoon or evening. During the day, sleep pressure normally builds up until a person is most ready for sleep at night. Naps get rid of sleep pressure, making a person less likely to want to fall asleep at night. Try exercise, or some other activity, to ward off napping.
For More Information
What you can do to prevent Alzheimer’s: A TED talk by neuroscientist Lisa Genova