The New Sleep Study that is Outrightly Nightmarish

Brain Health, Health & Wellness, Heart Health, Mental Health, sleep

Upon awakening (and before your caffeine fix), if you can say the title of this post three times perfectly in less than 10 seconds (go ahead, give it a shot…), odds are that you just slept like a baby!

In all seriousness, I was taken aback upon reading the newly published study that found men and women aged 50 and over who (on average), slept just 6 hours (or less) per night saw an  increased risk of dementia by 30% compared to those whose average sleep duration was at least 7 hours.    Other studies showed similar findings though most were conducted over a shorter follow-up period (generally less than 10 years).

We still don’t know whether sleep deprivation that begins at an earlier age has a similar effect.  Suffice it to say that during our medical or surgical residency training, we were chronically tired having been subjected to 36 hour shifts every 3rd or 4th night over multiple years.  Fortunately, today’s trainees are not afforded the rigorous sleep deprivation of previous generations.  As a result, the amount of time during medical training where 6 or fewer hours of sleep occurs is a lot lower than in years past.  Still, physicians are commonly assigned on-call overnight shifts where fewer than 6 hours slept has been the rule rather than exception.  Mechanisms proposed to account for the relationship between poor sleep and dementia include inflammation of the brain with buildup of cholesterol plaques in the lining of brain vessels as well as impaired processing of proteins (such as beta amyloid).

For my patients who have difficulty getting a good 7-8 hours of restful sleep not due to a medical condition (such as sleep apnea), I make the following recommendations.

  1. Try to complete your dinner meal 4 hours prior to bedtime because a large part of digestion occurs during this period. Going to bed after a large meal is not conducive to a good night’s sleep if your body has to work overtime.
  2. Take a 20-30 minute walk after dinner. Physical activity not only helps in digesting sugars and fat but also enables a more restful sleep.
  3. Turn off the TV (or other stimulating activities) 1-2 hours before bedtime.
  4. Try a cup of valerian tea or 2-4 ounces of tart cherry juice 1 hour before bedtime.
  5. Engage in a relaxation activity (restorative yoga, meditation, lavender bath) 30 min-1 hour before bedtime.

Check out my heart health tips each day on twitter (https://twitter.com/mmillermd1) or Facebook: (healyourheartbook).

Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

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