Here’s How Sleep Removes Poisons From Your Brain, Protecting You From Alzheimer’s as Nothing Else Can

Minda Zetlin wrote . . . . . . . . .

The more we learn about sleep, the more important we know it is to brain function. We even know that not enough uninterrupted sleep can increase your risk for Alzheimer’s. New research has shown exactly why that is, and it should be frightening news for anyone who routinely tries to get by on four, five, or even six hours, even if they make up for it with daytime naps.

A research team at Boston University led by Laura Lewis, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, took note of experiments that linked lack of sleep to Alzheimer’s and set out to learn why that is. Ironically, this involved making people come to the sleep lab late at night after telling them to cut back on sleep the night before so they would be able to fall asleep inside an MRI machine with an EEG cap on their heads. None of this could have been fun for people who already know that missing sleep is bad for you, but the team’s findings make it all worthwhile because they solved the mystery of why people who miss sleep are at greater risk for neurological disease.

As you probably know, we go through several stages of sleep in a night. First comes light sleep, then deep sleep, then finally rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep, which is when we dream. This is why we so often dream right before waking in the morning.

The researchers discovered that the magic happens during the deep sleep phase, also called non-REM sleep. During deep sleep, they observed, all the neurons in the brain begin working in sync, something that doesn’t happen any other time in our lives. Neurons turn on and off, sort of like tiny little light bulbs, and when they all turn off at once, suddenly the brain needs less oxygen in the same way turning off all the lights at once cuts electricity consumption. Because the brain needs less oxygen, it therefore needs less blood, so blood flow to the brain slows for that moment that the neurons are all off. The lack of blood allows for cerebrospinal fluid, a clear liquid that surrounds the brain, to flow in. Then it flows out again, taking with it toxins such as beta amyloids that naturally accumulate in the brain and can lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s. It turns out that our deep sleep is filled with these “slow waves” of cerebrospinal fluid flowing in and out of the brain and washing away toxins each time, sort of like a washing machine.

There’s no way to activate this process except by deep sleep, and deep sleep only occurs over several hours–you can’t get there during a “power nap.” (Napping is still very worthwhile, though, because it benefits your health and productivity in many other ways.)

Yes, you really should prioritize sleep

There are times when writing this column makes me feel like a nagging parent, and this is one of them. If you’ve spent any time at all on this site, you know that I and my fellow columnists remind you pretty often about the importance of sleep. I probably wouldn’t have done it yet again, except that this new research is so interesting, and the topic of sleep is so very, very important.

I don’t care that much if you lose productivity, which you will if you skimp on sleep. I don’t care if you’re grumpy, another effect of sleep deprivation. I don’t even care that much if insufficient sleep affects your ability to think clearly or perform complex tasks. All those things are temporary and easily fixed. Alzheimer’s is something else again.

I know because my mother died of Alzheimer’s in 2015 after living with the disease for more than 20 years. I watched through the slow degradation of her losing first her short-term memory, then much of her dignity, and then her whole self. Since this recent research came out, I’ve thought a lot about her sleeping habits. She did not prioritize sleep, as we at are always telling you to do. She lived and worked in New York City, but at 60 she married a man who lived 100 miles north of there. For years until she retired, she would spend the weekends with him, then rise between 3 and 4 a.m. on Monday mornings to drive back to the city, thus avoiding the terrible Sunday evening traffic. I did that bleary-eyed trip with her just once and swore I never would again.

Would more sleep have made a difference to her illness? I’ll never know and it doesn’t matter now. But as for me, I’m making sure I get all the sleep I need as many nights as I possibly can. So should you. Take it from me and my mom.

Source: Inc.

Roquefort Sandwiches with Gingered Beet Marmalade


16 very thinly sliced diagonal pieces of stale baguette, or thinly sliced stale ciabatta
6 ounces Roquefort cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil for brushing bread
2 cups (3 ounces) watercress

Gingered Beet Marmalade

3 medium-large red beets (16 to 18 ounces total), whole and unpeeled
1 onion, quartered, plus’/ onion, chopped
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons raisins or diced dried figs
1/2 teaspoon chopped peeled fresh ginger
pinch of five-spice powder, cloves, or allspice


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. To make the beet marmalade: Place the beets, quartered onion, and red wine in a baking pan just large enough to fit them with a few inches of space in-between. Cover the pan with aluminum foil, then bake for an hour, or until the beets are tender. Remove, uncover, and leave to cool.
  3. When cool, slip the skin from the beets, then dice in 1/8 to 1/4-inch pieces.
  4. Coarsely chop the cooked onion and combine it with the diced roasted beets and the cooking juices from the pan in a saucepan along with the chopped raw onion, vinegar, sugar, raisins, ginger, and several tablespoons of water. Bring to a boil and cook over medium-high heat until the onion is softened, and most of the liquid has evaporated. Do not let it burn. Remove from heat and adjust flavorings with more sugar and vinegar, for a decidedly sweet-sourish balance.
  5. Season very subtly (a pinch only) with five-spice powder. Set aside. Makes about 2 cups.
  6. To make the sandwiches: Lay out 8 of the baguette slices and spread each thickly with Roquefort cheese. Top each with the remaining slices of baguette and press together well to hold. Brush each side of the little sandwiches with a small amount of olive oil.
  7. Heat a heavy nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and place the sandwiches in it. Reduce heat to medium-low or medium. Cook the sandwiches until they turn a crisp golden on the first side, press together lightly with the spatula, then turn and lightly brown the other side.
  8. Serve the crisp hot little sandwiches on a plate, garnished with a tuft or two of watercress and a generous spoonful of the beet marmalade.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Grilled Cheese

In Pictures: Sandwiches of Restaurants in London, U.K.

At High Risk for Heart Disease? Strict Blood Pressure Control Should Help

If you’re at high risk for heart disease, lowering your blood pressure below the standard target level may help extend your life, a new study suggests.

Specifically, a systolic blood pressure target of less than 120 mm Hg — rather than the standard 140 mm Hg — could give someone an extra six months to three years of life, depending on their age when they begin intensive blood pressure control.

Systolic blood pressure is the top number in a blood pressure reading.

“Our hope is that these findings offer a more easily communicated message when discussing the potential benefits and risks of sustained blood pressure control over time,” said lead study author Dr. Muthiah Vaduganathan, a cardiologist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“These statistics about life expectancy may be more tangible and personalized for patients, and more relatable when making these decisions,” Vaduganathan added in a hospital news release.

A landmark trial published in 2015 showed that intensive blood pressure control could reduce overall death rates by 27% for adults with high heart disease risk, but patients might not fully understand how that affects them, the study authors noted.

So the researchers decided to reframe the findings to be more meaningful for patients.

The study team re-analyzed the data from more than 9,000 adults, aged 50 and older, who had high heart disease risk but did not have diabetes. The patients all had systolic blood pressure between 130 and 180 mm Hg (130 mm Hg or higher is considered high blood pressure).

The patients were divided into either intensive (120 mm Hg or lower) or standard (140 mm Hg or lower) systolic blood pressure target groups, and given free blood pressure drugs. They were followed for an average of just over three years.

According to the report, if all of the patients continued taking their blood pressure drugs for the rest of their lives, those with the intensive blood pressure target could live six months to three years longer than those with the standard blood pressure target.

This length of extra time among those with the intensive target depended upon their age when they started taking blood pressure medications. Someone who started at age 50 would gain 2.9 years; someone who started at age 65 would gain 1.1 years; and someone who started at 80 would gain nine months, the researchers explained.

The analysis did not account for potential risks associated with intensive blood pressure control, such as kidney injury and low blood pressure, the study authors noted.

The report was published online JAMA Cardiology.

Source: HealthDay

Simple Blood Test Could Help Reduce Heart Disease Deaths

Scientists at Newcastle University have revealed how a simple blood test could be used to help identify cardiovascular ageing and the risk of heart disease.

For the first time, experts led by Professor Konstantinos Stellos report that higher levels of amyloid-beta in the blood may be a key indicator of cardiovascular disease.

It is hoped that this research will one day lead to the development of a simple blood test that could be used as a clinical biomarker to identify patients who are most at risk, so that preventative measures can be put in place and death rates reduced.

Key role of amyloid-beta

Amyloid-beta is known to be involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, yet scientists have now concluded that it may have a key role to play in vascular stiffening, thickening of the arteries, heart failure and heart disease progression.

The work, published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, proposes the existence of a common link between both conditions, which has not been acknowledged before, and could lead to better patient care.

The findings suggest that the higher the level of amyloid-beta in the blood the higher the risk of developing serious heart complications.

Professor Stellos, from Newcastle University’s Biosciences Institute, who also works as a consultant cardiologist at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, led a series of international studies over the last few years, which involved experts from countries such as Greece, Germany, Switzerland and the USA.

He said: “Our work has created and put all the pieces of the puzzle together. For the first time, we have provided evidence of the involvement of amyloid-beta in early and later stages of cardiovascular disease.

“What is really exciting is that we were able to reproduce these unexpected, clinically meaningful findings in patients from around the world. In all cases, we observed that amyloid-beta is a biomarker of cardiovascular ageing and of cardiovascular disease prognosis.”

Global health problem

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death around the world, taking almost 18 million lives each year. It includes coronary heart disease, heart attack, heart failure and other conditions.

Professor Stellos’ Group, in collaboration with several international scientists, analysed blood samples from more than 6,600 patients from multiple cohort studies in nine countries, and found that patients could be divided into high and low risk categories of heart disease based on their amyloid-beta levels.

In the future, it is hoped that a simple blood test could be added to the current method of patient screening, known as the GRACE score, which assesses heart attack risk and guides patients’ treatment plans.

Using the GRACE score, eight factors are used to predict the risk of heart attack, including age, blood pressure, kidney function and elevated biomarkers.

Further research at Newcastle University will focus on clinical trials to establish the use of a bedside blood test in predicting risk of heart attack and/or death and look at the most effective ways to reduce amyloid-beta in the blood.

Professor Stellos said: “I am interested in knowing which of my patients is at risk of death and/or recurrent heart attacks.

“Measuring amyloid-beta reclassified a large proportion of patients who had a heart attack in the correct risk categories over an established guideline-suggested risk score in independent clinical studies.

“If blood-based amyloid-beta predicts death in patients with heart disease, does it make a therapeutic target? Our next step is to investigate this.”

Source: Newcastle University

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