Quick Tips: Physicians answer questions about the health risks associated with poor sleep.
I wake up a lot during the night and have trouble falling back asleep. Does that increase my risk of developing Alzheimer's?
Poor sleep and Alzheimer's disease (AD) may be linked, says Todd J. Swick, MD, an assistant clinical professor of neurology at the University of Texas School of Medicine and medical director of Houston Sleep and Neurology Associates. Since research shows that during sleep, the brain clears away toxins such as amyloid-beta, a protein believed to be involved in Alzheimer's disease, disrupted sleep might result in the harmful accumulation of toxins in the brain.
Several studies have also looked at patients with moderate to severe AD and found that “a significant number of these people had had disrupted night-time sleep for years,” says Dr. Swick, who is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology (FAAN). Although these studies do not definitively prove that poor sleep causes Alzheimer's, he says, they do point to a link.
I get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep, but some of it comes from naps during the day. Am I getting the same benefits as someone who sleeps for seven or eight hours at night?
Taking a short power nap for 15 to 20 minutes during the day is fine, says Marc Raphaelson, MD, a member of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) and a sleep specialist in Washington, DC, “but fitful sleep needs to be investigated.” If you're napping frequently during the day because your night-time sleep is disturbed, you may have an underlying medical condition like sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, he says.
In addition, taking long naps during the day increases the likelihood that you won't sleep well at night. “Sleep during the day should be just enough to refresh, without being too much,” says Michael J. Thorpy, MD, a member of the AAN and director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, NY. If you're feeling sleepy during the day, try to resist the urge to nap so that you'll sleep more at night, he suggests.
My child gets no sleep! Is he at risk for health problems?
Just as with adults, it's important to determine the underlying cause of your child's sleep problems, Dr. Swick says. Children can experience sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome, or the insomnia could be a sign of depression or anxiety.
Children who don't get enough sleep tend to become hyperactive during the day and are at risk for cognitive problems, says Dr. Thorpy. In extreme cases, hyperactivity caused by insomnia could lead to a misdiagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Additionally, lack of sleep can increase your child's risk of obesity, due to metabolic changes caused by sleep deprivation, research shows. “Getting a good night's sleep can help re-stabilize metabolism,” says Dr. Thorpy.