Boosting Brain Health: Sleep, Memory and You
You’re probably familiar with that sluggish feeling you get when you miss a night of quality sleep – but it’s not only your feet that drag when you’re tired. Sleep is crucial for keeping your mind sharp. We know from experience that a good night’s rest keeps your mind clear the next day, but research shows that the health consequences of not getting enough sleep can last well beyond just a few days.
Sleep does more than just recharge your energy. While your body rests, your brain stays busy refreshing itself:
- Your brain checks levels of hormones, proteins and enzymes to ensure everything is balanced.
- Your brain processes your emotions and memories, filing them away so you can successfully remember and manage them.
- Your brain cells shrink and the fluid in your brain begins to move faster, physically washing out damaging proteins and other toxins that build up between your brain cells throughout the day.
Sleep is an important tool for sustaining your brain’s health. Without enough quality sleep, excess toxins can build up over time, clogging your brain’s communication pathways and even damaging healthy brain cells.
We know the short-term effects of lost sleep – trouble concentrating, responding and remembering – but lost sleep also has long-term impacts on your memory and mental health.
Sleep and Memory
There is a lot left to learn about how memory and sleep connect, but research has repeatedly linked lost sleep to long-term memory storage issues and memory disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.
The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is unknown, but one key sign is a buildup of beta-amyloid protein plaques in the brain. According to one study, sleep significantly influences the amount of beta-amyloid proteins in your brain and even “losing just one night of sleep” leads to instantly increased amounts. This research indicates that getting plenty of sleep may be an important strategy for preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
Sleeping well is an extremely important part of living a long, happy and healthy life. If you or a loved one has trouble sleeping, reach out to your health care provider for help.
About the Author
Carmen Dohmeier, MD practices neurology and sleep medicine at Guilford Neurological Center