Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center may have recently discovered a vital function of sleep that could completely change the way we view and treat neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's disease and related dementia.
The study found that the activities of the brain change drastically between times or sleep and wakefulness. During sleep, a system activates which actually, literally, flushes toxins and waste from the brain. How it works is that brain cells shrink slightly, creating more space between them. Then cerebral spinal fluid is sent into the brain and washes through it, clearing out all the junk and 'plaque' that has built up from the day.
Scientists know that the build-up of plaque is a major cause of Alzheimer's disease because it breaks the neurons, or connectors, of the brain cells. They now believe almost all neurodegenerative diseases are associated with the accumulation of brain waste. To learn more, click here.
Unfortunately, as many as 70% of Alzheimer's patients have problems getting the regular, restorative sleep that is vital to clearing that cellular waste. Putting two and two together, we can suppose that getting proper sleep is essential for slowing the effects of Alzheimer's disease and keeping up quality of life.
If your loved one with Alzheimer's has problems sleeping, there are many options to help improve their sleep habits.
- Ask their doctor about other possible health problems that could affect sleep, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.
- Make sure they get plenty of sunlight, preferably a few hours every day. Morning light is the best. There are also special lights that can be used indoors in place of sunlight.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Try nonalcoholic or caffeine-free beverages if they insist on a particular drink.
- Talk to their doctor about any medications that may make them drowsy during the day or awake a night. See if the timing of medications can be changed
- Encourage physical activity. Using energy during the day can help promote sleep at night.
- Limit daytime sleep. If they must nap, have them nap on the couch or recliner - not in bed. Keep naps short and don't allow them to sleep too late in the afternoon.
- Establish routines. This is the most important one. Routines help the circadian rhythm stay in line and certain activities will eventually trigger wakefulness and sleepiness.
- Test the room temperature at night. Many Alzheimer's patients' temperatures rise slightly at night which can cause discomfort.
- Limit TV time, especially in the evenings, about four hours before bedtime.
- Get a "transitional object," something they only use at night, like a blanket, item of clothing, or even a stuffed animal to help them transition towards bed.
- If your loved one "sundowns," or gets agitated in the afternoon or evening, do an activity that they enjoy an hour or two before the behaviour generally begins. Keep noise to a minimum after the sun goes down to help them stay calm.
There are also drugs available to help sleep. Talking to your loved one's doctor about medications will give you a complete list of options to try.
Are there ways that you help your loved one sleep at night? What has or hasn't worked for you? Your comments below could help someone in a similar situation.