Back in the 90s I decided it was time to go back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree. I was working about 70 hours a week between a full time job and a part time job. I was carrying a full-time work load at school. And I tried to still have a life around all of this. In the interest of getting everything done I cut back on sleep. I told people that I thought sleep was overrated and that I was weaning myself. During the week I would often sleep only two or three hours a night. Then on Saturday evening I would crash and sleep for hours. I managed to keep this schedule for a while, but then weird things began to happen.
Slowly, one by one I began to do strange things. I called to purchase a plane ticket and I couldn’t remember how to spell my name – the same name I had been spelling for about 30 years! Then one day I put soup in the microwave and when it was done the microwave was empty; my soup disappeared. I found it a while later in the drawer of the microwave cart where I put it instead of in the microwave. One night on my way home from work I stopped at a stop light and then couldn’t remember if I should turn or go straight. The final straw was the night I almost had an accident on my way home from school because I had traveled into the opposite lane of traffic and didn’t even realize it. Thankfully I didn’t cause an accident, but I finally knew that I had to cut something out of my schedule in order to get more sleep.
In our society today sleep is often the first thing people skimp on when their schedules get busy. Truth is I still do skimp. It’s hard for me to get a full 8 hours of sleep. Over the years, though, I have learned that sleep is more important than most of us think. It is not just lazy time; our bodies need it to be able to function. Lack of sleep has been linked to poor cognitive performance, diabetes, and increased body fat to name a few. Now research is showing that sleep deprivation may play a role in developing Alzheimer’s dementia.
Recently a research team at Washington University in St. Louis found that depriving laboratory mice of sleep increased levels of amyloid beta in their brains. Amyloid beta plaques are found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Further study is still needed to determine fully what this means. However, understanding this connection will allow for better identification of people at risk for dementia as well as increase the possibility of finding a treatment for the disease.
So, while we don’t know for sure the role of sleep deprivation in dementia I think getting a few more z’s each day couldn’t hurt. Maybe I will go take a nap….
Michael Purdy. Sleep Loss Linked to Increase in Alzheimer’s Plaques. September 24, 2009 (accessed October 17, 2009) http://mednews.wustl.edu/news/page/normal/14696.html