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Goldilocks was Right

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But in this particular case, it is not about the firmness of a mattress; it is about how much time you spend on your mattress.  We all probably knew that too little sleep is a bad thing.  Never mind that it makes us feel pretty awful and act pretty grouchy when we do not get enough sleep.  It also reduces our cognitive function if we get too little sleep.  But researchers now report that the other extreme is not healthy for cognitive function either.  People who sleep overly long also show statistically significant decline in cognitive ability later in life.  So, it is the zone in the middle of too little and too much that appears to be the sweet spot for normal brain activity.  The zone that is “just right.”

Dutch researchers have found that people who have sleep disturbance in their middle years are more likely to show signs of the amyloid deposits that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s Disease later in life.  They liken this process to a kind of fast forward of the amyloid in the brain.  They tracked nearly 3,000 people, most of whom were in their mid-forties, from 1995 forward.  They established a baseline of overall cognitive function as well as their self-reported sleep patterns.  They then contacted them about every five years to repeatedly assess their cognitive patterns.  By about 2007 they charted cognitive capabilities by sleep duration and found that it traced something of a U-shaped curve with the people at the lowest and highest sleep duration patterns showing the greatest compromise to their cognitive abilities.

The people on the low sleep duration side probably need the most help, because staying asleep is more difficult that setting an alarm to waken earlier.  Experts suggest the following for better sleep hygiene:

  • Don’t take your cell phone to bed with you. The light is stimulating and texting and reading with the artificial light of the phone are far from ideal for winding down.
  • Television in the bedroom also has the same effect on winding down. It is best to shut down any electronic stimulation at least 30 minutes before settling down to sleep.
  • Avoid certain sleep agents like diphenhydramine  (Benadryl) that may be associated with an increased risk for dementia or Alzheimer’s later in life. Doctors recommend melatonin as an alternative.
  • Think about bed-time back in the middle of the day by stopping your caffeine intake by 1pm or maybe 2pm in the afternoon. The effects of the caffeine linger into your evening and will agitate your sleep patterns.

I add one more – make a list of what you’ll do tomorrow well before lights out.  You don’t want your brain working out tomorrow while you’re trying to shut down today.

Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.

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