Wake Up: How Poor Sleep Hurts Your Brain

People who snore at night and feel tired during the day, doze off easily in movies and meetings, fall asleep at the drop of a hat, or people who are overweight and constantly feel tired may be suffering from a condition called obstructive sleep apnea. This condition, if untreated over decades, can shrink parts of the brain by as much as 18% and may raise the risk of developing late-life Alzheimer’s disease. It also contributes to fatigue, hypertension, heart disease, silent strokes, and depression.


If you're told that your snoring at night is punctuated with periods of silence followed by gasping for air, you need to see your doctor. These days, simple home sleep testing devices allow doctors to check your sleep in the comfort of your own bed and determine if you have sleep apnea.


Given the reduced amount of oxygen to the brain, toxic levels of stress hormones, and strain on the heart in patients with sleep apnea, it is no wonder they have (in the long run) smaller brains. We need to be passionate in treating this condition for ourselves and for our family members. Treating sleep apnea, with facemasks called CPAP, weight loss, and avoiding alcohol at night makes patients feel refreshed in the morning. Other benefits include sharper concentration, improved mood, less frequent headaches, improved sexual performance, and extra energy. Many patients say that it feels as if  “a fog” in their minds has cleared. A recent MRI study shows that treating sleep apnea reverses the shrinkage in the memory part of the brain. Your brain can indeed become rejuvenated again.


Another sleep problem that may result in damage to your brain is chronic insomnia. People with this condition have trouble falling asleep and/or wake up frequently during the night. Insomnia also results in difficulty with memory and concentration, headaches, and fatigue. Simple tests can determine if your insomnia is due to vitamin deficiencies, low thyroid, or depression.  


Most people are under the impression that insomnia is a chronic condition that cannot be successfully treated. On the contrary, patients with fragmented sleep can achieve successful results by following simple lifestyle changes, taking supplements, or trying sleep medications.


In summary, whether you are snoring at night and or have frequent bouts of patchy sleep which interfere with your memory and concentration, you need to wake up and take care of this problem before it shrinks your brain in the coming years. Click here for tips on how to improve the quality of your sleep. 


Click here for a 5-step plan that can help you increase the size of our brain at any age and fight off Alzheimer's.