Sleep and Memory Issues: How Sleep Impacts Brain Health

Why getting your winks is so important

Sleep is important to health at all stages in life; however, there are known connections between poor sleep and memory issues. Although everyone benefits greatly from adequate sleep, sometimes it can be more difficult to obtain good sleep if a memory or health issue is affecting sleep quality.

Regardless of age, there are many ways that you or a loved one can improve sleep quality. By looking at the links between sleep and memory issues and also planning ways to get a great night’s sleep, better rest is possible. 

Changes in sleep

With age, sleep patterns can change. Older adults should aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night. As you get older, the body’s circadian rhythm, which relates to the body’s natural sleep and wake cycle, may shift. This means that older adults sometimes feel tired earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning. Despite this shift, eight hours of rest is still best for optimal health, even if those hours shift to an earlier time.

The Sleep Foundation points out that older adults tend to spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep compared to deep sleep. Sleeping lighter means that they might wake up more often throughout the night and have a harder time falling back asleep. They might also tend to feel more tired the next day. 

Older adults also sometimes don’t receive as much exposure to daylight, which can reduce the body’s natural ability to regulate the sleep and wake cycle. With age, the body also produces less melatonin – a hormone triggered by darkness that affects circadian rhythm and sleep cycles. 

When sleep is lacking

The side effects of lack of sleep can be frustrating and even quite damaging to health. Everyone knows of the grogginess and fatigue that can result from inadequate sleep, but prolonged sleep deprivation can increase the risk of heart disease and negatively affect mood and memory, among other adverse effects. 

If you struggle to remember things when you’re tired, there’s a link between sleep deprivation and impaired memory, as loss of connectivity between neurons can occur in brain regions associated with learning and memory.     

Challenges to a good night’s rest

Even people who’ve never had trouble sleeping can experience sleep difficulties in later years of life. Sometimes changes in sleep patterns are to blame and these changes can be unavoidable… still, other factors such as medications, chronic pain, and depression & anxiety can hinder sleep. 

For people with dementia and other memory conditions, medications that treat cognitive impairment and dementia might stimulate the brain or heart rate at night, disrupting sleep and making someone feel more awake. For circumstances like this, it’s always best to consult a doctor or pharmacist, but it may be possible to change medication if it’s disrupting sleep. Alternatively, it might also be possible to change the time of day it’s administered or take it with food in order to minimize disruptions during sleep. 

Chronic pain can also disrupt sleep. For older adults with memory loss, chronic pain can be more complicated, and relaying pain can be even more difficult… but if pain is affecting sleep, a change in medication or even a more holistic approach to pain might be helpful. Memory loss and other cognitive impairments can also be linked to depression and anxiety, which in turn can inhibit sleep. If these conditions affect sleep, be sure to talk to a doctor or a health care provider about new ways to improve mood and sleep. 

Strategies for improving sleep

If you or a loved one with a memory-related condition needs to get better sleep, there are several strategies and practices you might try in order to improve sleep quality and habits. Some of these techniques could apply to anyone experiencing insomnia or sleep difficulties, and some are specifically for individuals with memory loss. 

Keeping a sleep journal can help to gain a complete understanding of how much you sleep and when you sleep. Include entries for naps! For residents in memory care communities, a sleep journal is also helpful when it’s difficult to recall how much sleep took place over a given period of time. Blackout curtains, sleep masks, and white noise machines can also help some people sleep, as they can block out distracting light and mask some noises.

Staying active and engaging in regular physical activity can also benefit sleep. Keeping a regular bedtime routine where you go to bed at the same time each day and plan to wake up around the same time can help your body fall into natural sleep rhythms. 

Try to limit naps just before bedtime so that you’re more tired when it’s time to rest for the night. A longer nap or several short naps throughout the day can be beneficial, but they can’t replace a good night’s rest – and napping late in the day can lead to interrupted sleep at night. 

While sedatives are sometimes given to people with dementia, such medicines might interfere with sleep patterns. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist about medications and choices or dosage means that could improve sleep. 

A place to rest your head

The safety and security of a Memory Care Community can help residents feel safe if they’re prone to anxiety, which can also improve sleep. Letting them know that team members are always nearby can help provide the reassurance that’s needed. 

Thrive’s Communities specialize in Memory Care that provides the support and engagement needed for our residents to lead enriched lives. While memory loss and other changing cognitive abilities can lead to greater challenges – the health, well-being, and happiness of our residents are always a priority. We want our residents, and their families, to sleep soundly – so close your eyes, count some sheep, and have the peace of mind that Thrive has you covered (yes, that’s a 1,000 thread-count worthy pun!)

If you haven’t yet seen one of Thrive’s communities for yourself, we invite you to tour when you can. You can visit us in-person or virtually, and we’ll be glad to share more about the places and spaces that we call home.

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