Sleep is one of the most important safety mechanisms the body has in protecting itself from a vast array of both physical and mental disorder. Yet it has been stated that as many as 58% of American adults currently suffer from mild to chronic insomnia and/or sleep related disorders.
While many people experience periodic bouts of insomnia, which generally range from a few weeks to a month, caused by such things as jet lag, forced overtime at work or work-related stress, money problems and other life problems, including hormonal changes in women brought on by pregnancy, PMS and menopause, chronic insomnia lasts longer and is often connected to health problems.
Health conditions such as heart, liver and pancreatic diseases, as well as chronic pain, diabetes, restless leg syndrome, breathing problems and sleep apnea can cause both men and women to wake up repeatedly during the night. In addition, over-the-counter drugs and prescription meds (such as those used to control blood pressure, as well as heart drugs, and thyroid hormones) can also result in disruptive sleep patterns.
Yet, while mental illness such as depression and anxiety, as well as PTDS, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, etc. have all been deemed to contribute to sleeplessness, researcher Jeffrey Iliff and his colleagues at Oregon Health and Science University have actually found evidence that poor sleep can actually lead to Alzheimer’s disease, rather than the other way around as previously thought.
If proven correct, their studies may eventually help determine who is most vulnerable to the disease down the road using Magnetic Resonance Imaging to detect when the brain’s glymphatic system is activated to remove waste and toxins from the brain by re-circulating cerebrospinal fluid during deep sleep cycles. These include amyloid (which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease).
Alzheimer’s is marked by the build-up of plaque and tangles in the brain, eventually resulting in neurological damage. Early symptoms include short-term memory loss, followed by disorientation, motivational loss, moodiness, impaired language, cognitive loss and behavioral problems.
In the meantime, researchers at the American Academy of Neurology led by Dr. Rebecca Gelber, from the Pacific Health Research and Education Institute in Honolulu found that men with decreased levels of oxygen in their blood while sleeping, were “4-times as likely to develop areas off cell loss and dead tissue in the brain caused by microscopic strokes (mini-infarcts), as opposed to those who experienced more time in restorative slow wave sleep cycles.” Micro-infarct lesions and brain atrophy are considered the hallmark of Alzheimer‘s disease, and ultimately dementia.