STUDY: Insomnia Can Double Alzhemier's Risk

Written by Dr. Geovanni Espinosa
Posted December 5, 2014

I find it ridiculous when I hear guys brag about how little sleep they need.

And believe me, I hear it all the time: ”Oh, I only need 3 or 4 hours a night and I’m good.” Except that there’s nothing good about it. Unless, of course, you’re actively trying to land yourself in an early grave.

Still, the myth persists. Hyper-competitive men (and much of Western society in general) think that sleep is a waste of time and a luxury for the lazy. And look, I get it. I’m a doctor — and I didn’t earn that title without my share of all-nighters.

So this pervasive idea that getting by on just a few hours every night is some badge of honor? It makes perfect sense.

It’s also wrong. And exceedingly dangerous...

When you consistently sacrifice sleep you are essentially killing yourself in slow motion. It causes severe damage to your overall health in the long term — increasing your risk of illness and promoting lethal chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

And, according to one recent study, it raises your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, too.

A team of Swedish researchers followed more than 1,000 men over 50 between 1970 and 2010. (Yes, we’re talking about a 40-year follow-up period.) And they found that the men who reported sleep disturbances were 33% more likely to develop dementia and 51% more likely to end up with Alzheimer’s.

But the worst news comes to guys who report problems closer to age 70. Because, according to this study at least, sleep disturbances this late in life more than double dementia risk, and nearly triple Alzheimer’s risk.

So you know what? You can eliminate trans fats, work out, eat right, and play Sudoku all day long. If you’re not sleeping, your brain is still in big trouble. Period.

With that alarm sounded, I also know how many guys want to get more shut eye. They just can’t.

There’s a reason this is so common. It’s easy to sabotage your sleep without even realizing it. So here’s what I tell men who come into my office with insomnia:

  1. Use your bedroom for sleep and sex only. I hate to rattle off cliches, but you really do need to make your sleeping quarters your sanctuary. No double-duty, no distractions. So if you’ve got an office setup in your bedroom? Move it now. Same goes for the TV. (Sorry, but no exceptions. I’ll explain why in a moment.)

  2. Keep your room as quiet and as dark as possible. This goes without saying, but it’s vitally important. Jarring noise will keep your stress response too active. (That’s why white noise machines come in handy when complete silence is impossible.) And light of any kind will impede your body’s secretion of melatonin — a hormone that regulates your body’s sleep/wake cycles, among other critical jobs.

  3. Get the tablets, televisions, and smartphones out of there. The light these electronic devices emit also impacts melatonin secretion. Same goes for bright alarm clocks. So turn off the light in your bedside clock if you can — or buy a battery operated clock instead.

  4. Get an hour of outdoor light each day, even if it is divided throughout the day. Once again, this helps to regulate your body’s natural rhythms.

  5. Avoid strenuous exercise five hours before bedtime — but get the appropriate exercise regularly. The best time for exercise is in the morning. But if you have to hit the gym after work, do it earlier in the evening before dinner, rather than later.

  6. Make your last meal the lightest and eat it two to three hours before bedtime.

Following these six steps will prime your body for a regular sleep routine and get your melatonin levels back on track. But if you’re still having trouble getting and staying asleep, you can also try a nightly melatonin supplement. (And you might need to, since melatonin generation has a tendency to taper off with age.)

Here's what I recommend...

I suggest a dose between 1 mg and 3 mg, 30 to 60 minutes before bed. Anything in this range is totally safe. But I’ve seen guys wake up groggy even taking smaller amounts of melatonin — so you have to figure out what works for you.

One last thing: Being a urology doc, I must mention that you’re not getting any kind of restorative sleep when you’re waking up to pee all night. Which makes dealing with lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) from an enlarged prostate a crucial health issue, especially if you’re an older guy.

But I’m all out of space today, so we’ll return to that topic another time. In the meantime, the message here should be crystal clear: Sleep MUST be a priority.

Schedule it just like you would any other daily activity. And don’t make it that thing you do only after everything else is done. Stop doing other things so you get the sleep you need... or suffer the very real consequences.

As always, the choice is yours.

Stay tuned and stay well,

Dr. Geo

Geo Espinosa, N.D., L.Ac, C.N.S., is a renowned naturopathic doctor recognized as an authority in integrative management of male and urological conditions. Dr. Geo is the founder and director of the Integrative Urology Center at New York University Langone Medical Center (NYULMC), a center of excellence in research and integrative treatments for urological conditions.

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