• Glenn S. Rothfeld, MD

The Dementia-Fighting Powers of Sleep, Part 2: Sleep Deprived?

My research has revealed this critically important role for adequate sleep in protecting us from dangerous dementia-causing substances like beta-amyloid, tau protein and alpha synuclein building up in our brains, and doing their damage.

Yet, according to current statistics, 50-70 million Americans suffer from sleep deprivation and sleep disorders.

Many of those people (and many of you who are afflicted with sleep problems) have something called “sleep apnea,” a condition in which the person doesn’t breathe properly at night due to extra fatty tissue in the adenoids or back of the throat, too much weight in the neck and facial areas, or swelling of the adenoids and sinuses. The “apnea” can manifest as someone actually stopping breathing for several seconds, or very loud snoring.

Sleep apnea is usually brought to awareness by a partner who complains of the snoring, or lies awake terrified that their sleepmate has just stopped breathing, then gasped for air. Extreme fatigue and unexplained high blood pressure are other signs of sleep apnea. The diagnosis is made from something called a “sleep study,” where the person actually sleeps in a lab (or, in some places, their own bed) attached to electrodes monitoring oxygen intake and sleep rhythms.

The treatment of sleep apnea can vary from weight loss (always a good suggestion for those who carry extra weight) to treatment of the cause of sinus and adenoid swelling (most frequently allergy), to surgery, in extreme cases. And of course, there are machines, CPAP and BiPAP being the most common, that push air through the obstructions at night. These machines have become less obtrusive torture in recent years, but still are not tolerable for many. I have my patients try a small contraption that fits into the nostrils easily, and sometimes provides the slight increase in breathing passages that improves the sleep. The inserts can be found at

Of course, many people who have sleep problems do not have apnea. Some have problems falling asleep, some have problems staying asleep, and some have both.

Some easy hints are worth mentioning.

1. Try going to bed at a regular time each night. Our bodies are creatures of habit, and will get used to the idea that it is time to wind down if given a regularity of bedtime.

2. Turn off any blue light screens in the room, including computer screens. Our brains are receiving mixed messages if the apparatus of stimulation and activity are present while they’re trying to settle down.

3. Don’t do your work, or heavy problem solving, in your bed. Choose another room in the house to be the room of cerebral activity, and leave your bedroom for intimacy and for sleep. If you live in a studio, divide up your living space in this way.

4. Try taking a warm bath before bedtime. Epsom salts, containing the valuable sedating mineral magnesium, will assist in the relaxation process.

5. If waking up during the night is the main issue, try taking a very light snack before bedtime. Low blood sugar is a common cause (next to frequent urination) of waking in the middle of the night. A few almonds soaked to soften them, or a few spoons of full-fat yogurt, or a bit of almond butter on a cracker can frequently do the trick.

Of course, Big Pharma is happy to supply you with pills to drug you to sleep, but many of these meds are heavy duty, addictive and even life-threatening. Many natural and safe alternatives exist, and I suggest trying a few to see what works best for you. My favorite sleep remedies are:

  1. Valerian

  2. Skullcap

  3. Magnesium

  4. Melatonin

  5. 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) and/or L-Tryptophan

  6. Jamaican Boxwood

  7. L-Theanine

  8. GABA and GABA-promoting nutrients

  9. Phosphatidylserine

  10. I throw a little curcumin into my sleep mixtures, and this seems to help as well

In conclusion, to restore your energy, fight off unwanted colds and prevent Alzheimer’s … pleasant dreams!