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New Research The Simple Act of Sleeping for a Better Brain
By Jen Morganti, ND, NEEDS Director of Education

You've probably heard it a million times: you need to get eight hours of sleep each night to be healthy. But why? Science has shown that sleep has a multitude of health benefits. When we get less than 7-8 hours of sleep, our immune system becomes compromised and we are more prone to illness. Sleep is a critical time for renewal; it's when cells regenerate, the body heals, recovers from stress, and renews energy. Considering the list of benefits, sleep may even be a factor to enhance our longevity.

So the recent news that sleep may impact brain power comes as no surprise. A study published in Nature Neuroscience showed a link between sleep quality and a buildup of beta-amyloid plaque, a hallmark for Alzheimer's Disease. There have been hints of this connection previously in animal studies, but this is the first human study exploring the topic.

This small study looked at brain imaging in 26 older adults who were not diagnosed with dementia. Researchers recorded their quality and quantity of sleep, the amount of beta-amyloid present in their brain, and the accuracy of their memory. The participants memorized word pairs, were tested on their memory, then slept eight hours, and retested the following day. It was found that those with the poorest quality of sleep had the lowest recall scores and higher levels of beta amyloid plaque. Less sleep equated to more plaque...or was it that more plaque resulted in worse sleep? Scientists already know that one function of sleep is to clear out the plaque, but it's not entirely clear if the reverse is true and if plaque causes sleep disruption. Even without knowing the answers, it would be wise to try to get a solid eight hours of sleep each night. If that proves challenging, here are some simple remedies for better rest.

1. When it's dark, the body produces the hormone melatonin, which induces sleep. Melatonin controls the circadian rhythm and regulates sleep cycles. With age, comes a natural decline in hormone production, including melatonin. Try taking 3-10 mg of melatonin to regulate your circadian rhythm.

2. Valerian is a mildly sedative herb to help with sleep. Research shows it can be combined with other sedative herbs and melatonin to help relieve mild to moderate insomnia. It's very safe and does not have side effects.

3. Sleep disruption can occur for different reasons; a common problem is stress and anxiety. The amino acid L-theanine enhances calming neurotransmitters to help improve sleep quality.

Matthew P Walker et al. Nature Neuroscience, June 2015

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