Sleep Apnea and Dementia

An Effective Preventative for Alzheimer’s Disease

Did you know that there’s a very effective way to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease? It’s a simple little thing that you may have heard of that’s absolutely free. You can get it anywhere, anytime. It’s best to have some every night, whether you want it or not. That’s correct. You can prevent alzheimer’s Disease (or at the very least, delay the onset of Alzheimer’s) by getting enough regular sleep. It has been proven that there is indeed a link between sleep apnea and dementia and between sleep apnea and vascular dementia.

Call it “shut-eye” or “getting z’s”. Call it “passing out”, “crashing”, “hitting the sack”, “flaking out”, “hitting the sheets”, “going to see the Sand Man” or whatever you want to call it, —it’s “SLEEP”.

That’s correct. You can prevent Alzheimer’s Disease (or at the very least, delay the onset of Alzheimer’s) by getting enough regular sleep. It has been proven that there is indeed a link between sleep apnea and dementia and between sleep apnea and vascular dementia.

When It’s Time to Hit the Sheets, You’d Better Crash

To prevent the onset of dementia, MCI (mild cognitive impairment) and, eventually, Alzheimer’s disease, go to sleep. “GO TO SLEEP. GO DIRECTLY TO SLEEP. DO NOT PASS ‘GO’. DO NOT COLLECT $100.”

You may be saying, “That sounds a lot easier than it is. I have sleep apnea and I think I have dementia.” And for some of us, getting those z’s isn’t easy at all. But, this is such a serious preventative measure that we should all do absolutely everything within our power to fulfill this obligation. Seriously.

Not only is there a connection between apnea and Alzheimer’s, there is a connection between sleep apnea and vascular dementia. The way that vascular dementia and sleep apnea are connected is that, sleep apnea prevents sufficient oxygen from reaching the brain of the vascular dementia patient.

Why is REM Sleep So Important?

REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is vital, not only for good health but for good brain health. REM sleep, (that period of time when we dream during sleep) may only last 90-110 minutes, but it’s vitally important on many levels to ensure our brains are safe from negative changes.

Studies suggest that older men who spend less time in deep sleep or who have breathing difficulties during the night, are at greater risk of brain changes that precede the onset of dementia. These findings are evidence to the fact that poor sleep plays a role in the mental decline of adults and thus, there is a clear connection between vascular dementia and sleep apnea as well as sleep apnea and dementia.

Link Between Sleep Apnea and Dementia

As part of a long-term health study, 167 elderly Japanese- American men had their oxygen levels and brain activity monitored while they slept. The results of the study, published online in Neurology, were based on the men’s brain autopsies performed postmortem.

Researcher, Dr. Rebecca Gelber, of the VA Pacific Islands Health Care Systems in Honolulu said, the findings “help to explain how sleep disturbances may actually contribute to the procession of sleep apnea and dementia.”

Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Dementia

The findings showed that elderly men with less oxygen in their blood during sleep developed a higher number of microinfarcts in the brain. Microinfarcts are tiny abnormalities in brain tissue that can lead to dementia. Those men who spent less time in slow-wave sleep (the restorative stage sleep) also showed more atrophy in their brain tissue.

“Microinfarcts and atrophy are known to be much more common and more severe in people with dementia, than in people without memory problems,” Gelber noted.

Sleep Apnea and Dementia

If someone keeps you awake at night with their snoring, you may feel resentful toward them. After all, they’re keeping you awake while they remain sound asleep — or so it seems. That can build resentment.

On the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t be too quick to write- off snoring as a mere annoyance.  According to new research, snoring can negatively affect the brain.

In many cases, snoring is a form of sleep apnea which is a serious condition that can lead to other problems. (Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing stops dozens of times an hour throughout a night’s sleep, cutting off the flow of oxygen to the brain for several moments at a time.) It’s a fact that obstructive sleep apnea and dementia go hand-in-hand, and is often aided with sleep medications.

Researchers of a study published in the journal, Neurology have found that people with sleep apnea tend to develop memory problems and other signs of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) sooner than those without sleep disorders.

Doctors take it very seriously when a patient tells them, “I have sleep apnea and I think I have dementia,” because the connection between the two is very real.

Destructive Power of Sleep Deficiency

A group of 2,000 seniors between 55 and 75 took part in the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI).  Research assistant and professor of psychiatry at the NYU Center for brain health, Dr. Ricardo Osorio and his colleagues headed up the study.  Some of the subjects were cognitively normal while others had mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and still others were Alzheimer’s patients.

Each participant in the study was asked about their snoring and sleep apnea and were followed up every six months for 2 to 3 years to record any changes in their cognitive status. A link between sleep apnea and dementia was established.

Those with sleep apnea or snoring tended to develop the signs of mild cognitive impairment (memory lapses and slower cognitive skills) about 12 years earlier than those who didn’t have sleep disorders.

Connection to Alzheimer’s

Although mild cognitive impairment will often precede Alzheimer’s dementia, not everyone with MCI will get Alzheimer’s disease. Taking into account other conditions that factor into Alzheimer’s disease: genes, gender, education, depression and heart disease risk factors — the connection between sleep apnea and dementia remains strong. The conclusion is that failure to obtain a full night of regular, deep sleep will contribute to MCI and possibly Alzheimer’s disease.

Not all snoring is a precursor to memory problems or Alzheimer’s, but doctors should consider the potential damage that interrupted breathing during sleep has on the brain. The cumulative effects of even brief periods of breathing cessation could deprive brain neurons of vital oxygen.  Dementia has been linked to slower or abnormal blood flow caused by hypertension and high cholesterol levels.

Amyloid, Sleep Apnea and Dementia

Other studies have shown that the protein which is responsible for Alzheimer’s — amyloid — builds up in the daytime and declines at night during deep sleep. When awakened from deep sleep by apnea or snoring, we’re not experiencing prolonged periods of low amyloid production. That’s when amyloid can build up and potentially form plaques. The build-up of amyloid is another association between dementia and sleep apnea effects.

(Amyloid, the term for protein fragments, is normally produced in the bone marrow. Beta amyloid is a protein fragment snipped from an amyloid precursor protein. In healthy brains, protein fragments are broken down and eliminated. In Alzheimer’s disease, the protein fragments accumulate to form hard, insoluble plaques. This abnormal protein may be found in any tissue or organ.

The formation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles contribute to neuron degradation in the brain, and, subsequently, symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s.)

Neurofibrillary Tangles

Neurofibrillary tangles (insoluble twisted fibers found in brain cells) are made up of a protein called tau, which forms part of a structure called a microtubule.

Normally, the microtubule serves a good purpose and transports nutrients from one part of the nerve cell to another. But, in Alzheimer’s disease, tau protein has abnormalities which cause the microtubule structures to collapse.

Sleep Apnea and Dementia

CPAP Machines

Sleep studies have shown that those with snoring disorders or sleep apnea who used CPAP Machines were able to slow down the development of MCI to the same rate as those who have no problem sleeping.

This method of insuring that the brain receives enough oxygen during sleep and that sleep is not interrupted by a lack of oxygen, is not always a welcome choice for the apnea patient. They may even decide it isn’t working that well for them even as a last resort.

Looking at these results, those suffering from apnea must agree that there is plenty of evidence that the cumbersome, uncomfortable CPAP machines are worth a bit of discomfort for their dramatic effectiveness where brain health is concerned.

20% of Sleep is REM Sleep

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The average adult spends about 1½ hours in REM sleep over a period of 8 hours. REM sleep is the restorative part of the sleep cycle. As such, you should jealously safeguard it for its precious healing qualities.

A sleep cycle begins with a period of non-REM sleep followed by a short stint of REM sleep. Non-REM sleep consists of four stages, each stage lasting from 5 to 15 minutes.

To complete a cycle of sleep, one must progress from stage one to stage four before REM sleep is attained. Typically, given enough time, the cycle starts over again and repeats itself three or four times in an 8 hour period.  This is called the circadian sleep cycle, otherwise known as the “inner clock”.

If REM sleep is disrupted for even one night, the body won’t follow its normal circadian sleep cycle but will instead slip directly into REM sleep the following night to compensate for the night before. REM sleep periods will be extended until the body catches up.  As we know, poor sleep cycles can cause grogginess, grouchiness and a lack of concentration.

Most dreams occur during REM sleep.  Why we dream and what purposes our dreams serve are still mysteries. Some researchers theorize that dreams are the means by which the brain processes emotions, memories, information, and stress.

Rules to Sleep by:

  • Try to go to bed at the same time each night.
  • Create a calm and relaxed atmosphere.
  • Slow your thoughts.
  • Develop a steady bedtime routine.
  • Avoid heavy meals at night.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed.
  • Stop drinking caffeinated drinks right after lunch.

Does Everyone Dream During Sleep?

To die, to sleep – to sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, for in this sleep of death what dreams may come…” – Shakespeare

Even if we don’t remember our dreams, we all dream when we sleep. Since dreaming happens during REM sleep, the more REM sleep you experience, the more dreams you’ll have.  Barring drugs that intentional prevent dreaming, we all dream.

If you forget all your dreams and you’d like to be able to remember them, a simple method to prove to yourself that you do dream is to set up an alarm to wake you during REM sleep.  Of course, the problem with this is that you’ll be interrupting your own sleep, which is not healthy. So, it’s not something you would want to do on a regular basis.

There are skills that we can learn to help us stay asleep and keep dreaming. Did you know you can actually teach yourself how to stay in your dream?

Waking Up Too Soon

Usually, at any given point in a dream, we either wake ourselves up or are woken by circumstances going on in the dream.

Have you ever felt cheated out of a dream when it ended before you wanted it to? We don’t mind a nightmare ending. There’s a great deal of relief to discover, “it was only a dream,” but, what about when a lovely or exciting dream ends prematurely? You were just about to take off flying or just getting ready to taste that delicious meal when, all of a sudden, the alarm clock went off. What a bummer.

There’s an app now that will monitor your sleep and wake you at the most opportune time nearest your desired wake time so as not to shock you awake, setting your day on a negative start.

Still, if you would like to try to use some techniques on how to remain inside your lovely, lucid dream, here are a few suggestions to memorize:

How to Extend Lucid Dreams

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  • Try to remain calm – When you discover that you’re dreaming, don’t wake yourself up with a rush of adrenaline by allowing yourself to become excited. Try to get a grip and relax into the dream.
  • Rub your hands together – Kinesthetic actions stimulate the conscious brain to draw heightened awareness to your dream body and ground your sense of self inside the dream.
  • Calmly speak the words aloud such as, “I’m dreaming,” or “This isn’t real,” etc.
  • Look at your hands – A trick from Carlos Castaneda’s “The Art of Dreaming” is to simply find your hands and focus on them. This trick can help your dream to become lucid in the first place. One technique is to practise looking at your hands during waking hours while asking yourself, “Am I dreaming?” because that message will filter into your dreams and help you to remember it in your lucid dream. Find your hands, study them and by bringing awareness to this part of your dream body, your dream will last longer. The goal is to sharpen awareness of your mind and body inside the dream.
  • Reality Check – A simple reality check would be something like putting your hand through a wall — something you can’t do in reality. You can continue to tell yourself, “I’m dreaming,” or, “This is a dream.”

Don’t Forget to Focus

  • Request more focus – LaBerge discovered the need to be firm with any request you make to your lucid dream. When you shout or loudly request what you want, it will happen. Speak whatever it is you want with confident expectation that you will get what you’re asking for. If your dream is fading, ask for clarity or higher definition. Be clear about what you want and you’ll usually get it.
  • Do Math – By doing a little arithmetic, you’ll engage a higher function of your brain and build consciousness. Even simple Math works, like “Three times two is six.” That’s all it takes to stimulate the brain a little.
  • Spin around – LaBerge suggests this as a way to bring more awareness to your dream body based on the kinesthetic principle. Many lucid dreamers use spinning as a stabilization technique.
  • Fall Backwards – Falling backwards creates a vivid sensation which may also stabilize your dream, if done gently enough not to arouse you from sleep. Try it when there’s only a second to react and you don’t want the dream to end.
  • Look at the floor – Find the floor in your dream and focus on it. Look at the floor closely and observe the details.

More Explanation:

Some dreamers have used these techniques to extend their lucid dreams to up to an hour on days when they are able to lie-in, sometimes waking from a dream and going straight back into it for yet another adventure.

Nolan’s “Inception” dramatized and exaggerated the dreamscape reality, trying to convince us that people under sedation stay in a dream for hours and even days. We know that sedation, though it will put you to sleep, doesn’t normally alter the dream cycles.

Those who suffer from sleep apnea and therefore are not getting enough REM sleep will probably have less dreams because their dreamscape continues to be interrupted. As we said before, REM sleep is vital for brain health and the connection between sleep apnea and dementia is very real.

Dreaming As Vital To Survival

Like eating and copulating, dreaming should be a pleasurable experience. Could it be that in the same way that eating and copulating are tantamount to our survival, dreaming is, too?

Sleep deprivation is used as a torture device. Deprived of sleep, the body becomes weakened, vulnerable and unable to function. Under the duration and stress resulting from the prevention of sleep, the victim of sleep deprivation becomes more willing to cooperate with his captors. He’s willing to do almost anything just to be allowed to sleep. His very sanity is threatened by this type of torture.

Think about that if you’re having difficulty getting to sleep. Nobody is forcing you to stay awake by pouring icy water on your face. You have a soft, warm bed waiting for you. You are free and safe. Nobody is going to suddenly shock you awake.

I Have Sleep Apnea and I Think I Have Dementia

What can a person do who believes, “I have sleep apnea and I think I have dementia”? —Everything possible they can do to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, possibly with sleep medications. That should be your priority, whatever it takes. We’re talking about your brain health here. Sleep apnea and dementia are serious issues!

Let your mind wander into a green, grassy field where soft, white sheep are calmly sauntering around. Breathe in the fresh air. Gaze at the fluffy clouds overhead in the blue sky. Lay down under a friendly shade tree and continue to breathe deeply of the clean, fresh air. Feeling sleepy yet?

The Subconscious Mind

The subconscious mind is a deep dark well of mysteries yet to be fully explored. What we know about the subconscious mind is that it is a servant to the conscious mind, secluded from the encumbrances of reasoning and limitations. However, this knowledge is important if we want to understand the science behind sleep apnea and dementia.

We also know that we can hand a problem to our subconscious mind, instruct it to deal with a problem while we are sleeping and expect a solution to the problem in the morning. Many have found this to be a very effective method of problem-solving. It seems the subconscious mind has super powers that are called into action during REM sleep.

With all we’re learning about vascular dementia and sleep apnea, and how the lack of REM sleep is destructive, it would seem that the opposite holds true. Conversely, wouldn’t it stand to reason that when our brain enjoys extravagant amounts of REM sleep, the brain is rejuvenated? For all we know, we could be accomplishing more during sleep than we do while awake — whenever we are sleeping accurately, that is.

Brain Waves

An EEG (electro-encephalo-graph) of our waking brain waves show Gamma, High Beta, Mid Beta, Beta Sensory Motor Rhythm, Alpha and Theta brain waves.  These 6 individual brain waves make up our composite waking brain wave.

Stage One

When you first lie down to go to sleep, you go through Alpha and Theta brain waves just as you’re dozing off, at which time there are periods of dreaminess similar to daydreaming while beginning to fall asleep.  Some people experience more of these waves than others.

Alpha brain waves present a restful place that can be experienced during deep prayer or meditation.  At this stage, we may feel the sensation of falling in which is known as hypnogogic hallucinations. (these are the brain waves acted on by hypnotists.)

After that, you’ll begin to enter theta, a light, floaty period.  This usually lasts between five and 10 minutes.  Studies show that the average sleeper takes 7 minutes to fall asleep.

Stage Two

Stage two lasts about 20 minutes.  At this stage your brain will begin to produce short periods of rapid, rhythmic brain activity called sleep spindles.  Your body temperature will begin to drop and heart rate slow down.

Stage Three

During stage three sleep, your brain waves slow down to the Delta Wave sleep, the transitional stage between light and deep sleep.

Stage Four

Sometimes referred to as delta sleep, this stage of deep sleep lasts four up about 30 minutes.

Stage Five: REM

Now we enter REM sleep. The brain actually becomes more active as your muscles become more relaxed. This is why REM sleep is also called paradoxical sleep.

Although you may be in a dreamlike state during the other stages of sleep, REM sleep is the stage when the serious dreaming takes place. This is where you want to be.

Sleep Cycles

Normally, sleep does not conform to the order of the stages.  It begins in stage one, progresses into stages two, three and four but repeats stages three and two before entering REM sleep.  When the first REM sleep is complete, you return to stage two sleep. During the night you will cycle through these stages four or five times.

During the first cycle, REM sleep usually only lasts a short amount of time.  The following REM sleep cycles become longer each time, which is why we need long periods of sleep each night.  When you get only a short time of sleep, it’s not enough to get through the stages to experience the full benefits REM sleep has to offer. In the final sleep cycle, REM sleep can last up to an hour. In fact, dreams usually last as long as they actually seem to last. Though lucid dreams may seem as though they’re lasting longer.

Enjoy Your Sleep

Just as enjoying your food will help your body digest and assimilate it better, so enjoying your sleep will help you want to do more of it. Sleep apnea and dementia are serious concerns that need to be managed to the best of your ability. Don’t be afraid to sleep… and dream. Dream on, oh sleeper. Dream on!

Also See:

Sleep Medications

Link Between Sleep Apnea and Dementia


12 Proven Health Benefits Of Galantamine

Beat The Brain Drain

Categories: Supplements


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