In the past, I've told you about how important sleep is for your brain. Researchers have linked a lack of sleep to Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. It's absolutely essential to your health that you get enough sleep. But even more than that, you need to sleep at the right times.
Your body's circadian rhythms are very important. And new research with mice has shown that if you replace sleeping at night with one particular habit – even if you make up for the sleep later by napping – you can wreak havoc on your memory.
Your first guess about this bad habit might be watching TV or staring at some other glowing screen. And that can certainly be a poor choice at night, as it does disrupt your sleep. But researchers didn't get mice hooked on reality TV. They fed them snacks when they were supposed to be asleep.
As you might imagine, the researchers already knew that this would be bad for the mice's metabolism. But they didn't know if it would affect their learning and memory. To test this, they evaluated whether the mice were able to recognize a novel object. Those who were snacking when they were supposed to be sleeping had a much harder time remembering which objects they'd seen before. It also affected their long-term memory.
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The hippocampus is a major player in our ability to create and recall memories. And it's also affected by a protein called cAMP response element-binding protein, or CREB. Lower amounts of CREB in the brain mean it's harder for us to create memories. As you might expect, low levels of CREB have been linked to Alzheimer's disease. Sure enough, the mice that ate when they should have been asleep had much lower levels of CREB in their hippocampuses.
What's even more interesting is that an area of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, found in the hypothalamus, is responsible for the circadian system. The mice's new habits didn't affect this area of the brain. It still thought the body was supposed to be sleeping, not eating. This meant that the mice's brain regions were falling out of sync, and the researchers suspect this is a big part of why they weren't forming memories properly.
Not surprisingly, of course, the mice were tired during the day since their sleep had been disrupted, so they started taking more naps. While napping can be a good way to catch up on sleep when necessary, getting fragmented sleep over a long period of time is far from ideal.
If you want to stay sharp as you age, it's essential that you get enough sleep. If for some reason you find yourself awake when you should be sleeping, avoid snacking. And you definitely don't want to raid the fridge if you wake up in the night. Instead, try taking melatonin or tryptophan. They'll work with your body to help you get the deep sleep you and your brain need.
If you're having a hard time getting to sleep and staying asleep, try taking Advanced Sleep Formula
. This formula helps you sleep better without feeling groggy in the morning.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD