This one bad habit could trigger dementia damage

Could a single night of bad sleep damage your brain?

A new study says that it can -- and if you're a little older, this might be the wake-up call you need to get serious about sleep.

Missing out on snooze time can leave behind a tangled-up mess of garbage proteins in your brain that can choke off your neurons and set the stage for dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

In the new study, volunteers were monitored for 36 hours, including overnight, when researchers collected samples of brain fluid to see the changes taking place in real-time.

A night of good sleep didn't really cause many changes at all.

But when the folks ranging in age from 30 to 60 were kept up all night, there were dramatic changes.

DANGEROUS changes.

Specifically, they had higher levels of the amyloid beta plaques that accumulate in the brains of dementia patients.

In a SINGLE NIGHT, the plaques increased by up to 30 percent -- or levels typically seen in folks who have a high genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease.

That's a lot of damage for one night, but don't get too worried. We all have the occasional sleepless night.

We might feel crummy the next day, but the kind of damage seen in this study probably isn't permanent if you just miss out on sleep every now and then.

In fact, there's an ingenious system in your design to sweep those toxins right out of your brain.

The catch? That system activates at night... when you're asleep. Your brain cells shrink just a little bit while you doze, which forces toxic proteins such as beta amyloid to slide out in the open space between cells.

If you just miss out on sleep for a night or two, your brain can clean itself up... and you'll be no worse for the wear.
But when you miss out on sleep too often -- whether from chronic sleep problems or just bad habits -- that process is cut short, and that brain-sweeping system could fall so far behind that it might never catch up.

The toxins will build up, and you could suffer lasting damage, ultimately leading to cognitive decline and dementia.

Clearly, it's time to put a little extra effort into making sure you get the rest you need each night. That number varies from person to person, but studies show that right around 7 hours is the sweet spot.

If you have bad habits that keep you up at night, it's time for a new routine.

If you struggle to sleep no matter what you do, don't turn to meds. Turn to all-natural sleep solutions such as the "sleep hormone" melatonin and herbal remedies like chamomile, valerian, and passionflower.

Need a little more help? Make an appointment to see me here at the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine, or give me a ring for a telephone consultation at 855-DOC-MARK.

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