Alzheimer’s and Sleep

Sleep is required for our bodies to function. In the book “Living Your Best”*, Lisa Snyder indicates that “Sleep is required to consolidate memories, a process that moves short-term memories into long-term storage. It is important to make sure you get adequate sleep each night and that you rest during the day if needed to restore mind and body.” You could wake up with your mind refreshed. I have on occasion, especially after a particularly restless sleep, taken a nap during the day. In “The Memory Bible”*, author Gary Small suggests power naps during the day if necessary, but they should last no longer than 30 minutes. I have suffered with Insomnia for many years now, and the only relief I have found is through medication. I take Ambien CR which is an extended release tablet. Ambien is the trade name, Zolpidem is the drug name. I have tried many different relaxation routines, even the 20 minute sleep rule. Go to bed and try to relax, do not watch TV or read a book. If you haven’t fallen asleep in 20 minutes, get up and do something else for a while, then return to bed and repeat the cycle until you fall asleep. This process did not work for me.

There are things you can do to help with sleep issues.

Diet. Certain foods should be avoided, especially late in the day. According to foundhealth.com, foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates such as candy, energy drinks, soda, and donuts. These foods contain simple sugars and are easily absorbed which can give you a burst of energy disrupting your sleep patterns. Eatingwell.com recommends limiting alcohol to one drink per day. While alcohol can help you get to sleep, it can suppress REM sleep state. I do have a glass of wine (sometimes 2) in the evening. I usually don’t have any after 9:00. Sometimes I will have a snack such as an apple or snack crackers that triggers serotonin which can help you relax.

According to Dr. Matthew Walker of the University of California, Berkeley, “Disrupted sleep may be one of the missing pieces in explaining how a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, a sticky protein called beta-amyloid, starts its damage long before people have trouble with memory, researchers reported at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. It’s very clear that sleep disruption is an underappreciated factor.”  Dr. Walker presented data linking amyloid levels with people’s sleep and memory performance. “It’s a new player on the scene that increases risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”

According to Jeffrey Iliff, a brain scientist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. “Changes in sleep habits may actually be setting the stage for dementia. The brain appears to clear out toxins linked to Alzheimer’s during sleep. And, at least among research animals that don’t get enough solid shut-eye, those toxins can build up and damage the brain.” Iliff and other scientists at OHSU are about to launch a study of people that should clarify the link between sleep problems and Alzheimer’s disease in humans. It has been clear for decades that there is some sort of link. Sleep disorders are very common among people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Caffeine is one thing you really have to conscious of. I will occasionally have a diet soda at lunch, but never at night. I always look for caffeine free when I can. I do drink ice tea, and we drink a lot of hot tea in the winter, but it is easy to find decaffeinated tea. We drink only decaffeinated coffee.  We order our coffee from Ancora and grind it ourselves. We are so in tune with our coffee now that I was  well aware when I neglected to specify decaf at Starbucks. The result was immediate, I was very nervous and couldn’t hardly keep my hands from shaking.

Calm evenings are a must. Exercise within an hour before bedtime is not advised. I avoid watching any TV programs before bed that might cause any type of anxiety, stress, or strong emotions. Political programs, sporting events, and the news sometimes cause me to get wound up too much before bed so I avoid them.

Sundown Syndrome or sun-downing is a term I was not familiar with until recently. The phenomenon occurs late in the day as the sun sets and can cause a variety of behaviors such as confusion and anxiety. It is not a disease, but affects people with dementia’s like Alzheimer’s. The exact cause is unknown, but it has been suggested that its cause might have to do with the impact of Alzheimer’s on the brain.  I do not have this issue but when you research sleep disorders and Alzheimer’s, they are addressed in the same articles in a lot of cases. Many older adults (I don’t classify myself as older), without dementia notice changes in their sleep, it seems to be part of the aging process.

Stressful days (which fortunately doesn’t happen as often after I retired), can cause insomnia. As we age, sleep can become more erratic, Alzheimer’s complicates it even more, and stress compounds it further. If we have something to do like bills, mail, disability or Social Security paperwork, we try to do it earlier in the day. I can get agitated at some of the processes that we have to deal with.

*I made the decision with this post to start adding more resource materials that were recommended to me including websites, books, and other media. In this post, Living Your Best With Early Stage Alzheimer’s by Lisa Snyder is a book I use as a reference guide. “The Memory Bible” by Gary Small is another book that I utilize. The Websites, “Eatingwell.com“, and “foundhealth.com are sites that contain diet and nutrition information. Our coffee source is ancoracoffee.com, they are based in Madison Wisconsin.

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