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Sleep and Memory

27-03-2014

Sleep and Memory

Have you heard of Lewy Body Disease?
If you haven’t heard of Lewy Body Disease, you are not alone, though it is actually quite common. One of the reasons it is not well known is that it is often misdiagnosed as it is very difficult to confirm the diagnosis and as it shares many of the same symptoms as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, many people with LBD are often diagnosed with one of these.

Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or LBD?
While it has some similar symptoms to these far more well known forms of dementia it does have a different pathology. One of the signatures of LBD is a sleep disorder. People with LBD suffer from Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Disorder. Interestingly Alzheimer’s patients also have a higher prevalence of sleep disorders than the wider population and researchers believe that the connections between dementia and sleep are much stronger than previously hypothesised.

LBD is still a largely unknown disease
LBD research is embryonic at this point but the connection with sleep disorders and with Alzheimer’s suggests that research into these two areas could also be beneficial for LBD. There is an interesting NPR article titled Brains Sweep Themselves Clean Of Toxins During Sleep, that goes into some depth explaining why sleep is a vital piece in the dementia puzzle. The article refers to sleep as a sort of dishwasher for the brain, as we sleep the cells are able to clear the harmful toxins away, toxins which could be connected to dementia.

Brain-washing?
As we sleep the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in our brain rises to a very high level and this helps to clear away the dangerous waste proteins that build up between the cells while we are awake. Scientists have found that one of the of waste proteins that the cerebrospinal fluid removes is beta-amyloid, which is what the plaques that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease are made from. In other words, sleep helps to clean your brain, it is brain-washing. 

Brain shrinkage
One of the reasons that the brain is washed while we sleep is that our brains actually shrink when we sleep. It turns out that as we are using them more during the waking hours the cells expand. Then as we sleep they shrink, creating spaces between them that make sleep the perfect time to wash the brain of these harmful toxins.

Sleep and dementia
So it would appear that if you have a sleep disorder or simply do not get enough sleep then you may be increasing the risk of getting dementia in your old age. However, as we find out more about LBD, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, the truth is that this diseases have a complex set of causes and that while some people may have a genetic predisposition to dementia others who have sleep disorders may be far less likely to suffer from one.

As always, if you have some form of sleep disorder, it pays to talk to an expert as sleep is a vital component of both physical and mental health.


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