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Sleep and Dementia – the importance of getting those zzzz’s in!

There has been a lot in the media about research on sleep and dementia. I recently heard a talk from Rachel McGuiness at my Athena network who is a sleep expert. Everyone was engaged with and thoroughly enjoyed her fascinating presentation because, honestly, who hasn’t had periods in their life when sleep was hard to come by? Please read this post from Rachel and contact her if you need further information/advice…

Sleep to keep your brain healthy

I’m not an expert on dementia but I am an expert on sleep, and we know that lack of sleep can lead to a great many health issues: researchers have recently established a strong link between lack of sleep and the likelihood of developing dementia.

We spend a third of our life asleep, so by the age of 75 you will have spent about 25 years asleep!

Why do we need to sleep?

Sleep is crucial for our survival, we can survive three times longer without food than we can without sleep.  It is essential for our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing as it maintains our brain, immune system, metabolism, blood pressure and hormones, it is also when the body gets to do its repairs to cells, tissues and muscles.

Our sleep is broken down into 90 minute cycles in which we go through four different stages of sleep – very light, light, deep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.  During deep sleep is when brain and body maintenance takes place – this equates to only about 20% of our night’s sleep.  To ensure that this happens effectively, we need to have good quality uninterrupted sleep for between four and six cycles each night, which is around six to nine hours.

Deep sleep is the only time the brain can detox itself and get rid of the build-up of toxins it has accumulated during the day.   As you know the body has the lymphatic system to clear out toxins through sweat, but what is amazing is that the brain has its own dedicated cleaning system called the glymphatic system.  Our brain cells shrink by up to 60% to allow space to make it easier for cerebral spinal fluid to shampoo and rinse away the build-up of a sticky toxic protein called beta-amyloid; it’s the brain’s equivalent of a daily refuse collection.

We’ve all experienced a bad night’s sleep where we’ve woken up with a foggy head, can’t focus or concentrate and feel irritable during the day, this is because our brain hasn’t been able to detox.  But when we catch up with our sleep, we feel so much better and get back to normal.  Continual sleep disruption or bad quality sleep will increase the risk of dementia, as the build-up of the sticky protein will turn to plaque and start to kill neurons in the brain.

As a modern society, we are sleeping less than we should with over 70% of adults having some form of sleep problems. When we don’t get sufficient sleep, or we disturb our sleep patterns, we don’t give our brains enough time to complete its proper cleaning system.

There is, however, a difference between these occasional times where we don’t sleep well and continual poor quality sleep. When this happens, the body’s glymphatic system really struggles to do its job, the brain’s clean up system fails and the rubbish begins to build up and it becomes increasingly difficult for the brain to function either correctly or at its full potential.

What can you do to ensure you get a better night’s sleep?

  1. Switch off your tech at least an hour before bedtime to reduce your exposure to blue light from your devices which wake you when you should be getting sleepy.
  2. Wind down in the evening so that you’re relaxed and ready to go to bed – keep the lights low, listen to soothing music, have a bath or read a book; anything that is going to soothe and relax you and not stimulate or stress you.
  3. De-stress – get your worries, stresses and to do lists out of your head and onto paper so that you have nothing to ruminate on if you wake up in the night.
  4. Have a consistent bedtime and wake up time – your brain likes routine, and gets confused if your timings are inconsistent, which is why you start to suffer from social jetlag and don’t want to get up in the mornings and feel permanently jaded.
  5. Keep your bedroom a bedroom – it should be clean, tidy, cool, dark and airy; and should only be used for two things, sex and sleep; and not a part time office.


Rachel McGuinness from Wake Up With Zest is the ‘Go To Sleep Expert’ who helps busy people who suffer from short or long term sleep issues get a good night’s sleep. Follow this link to find out more:


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