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Health Team

Memory loss? Lack of sleep is more serious than you think

Posted December 26, 2017 6:19 a.m. EST
Updated December 26, 2017 7:28 a.m. EST

— The hustle and bustle of the holiday season often gets us up early and back to bed late, but skimping on a few hours of sleep here and there has its consequences.

If you're too deprived of sleep, some great holiday memories may simply fade away.

Research has shown that sleep is very important for a number of brain functions. According to Dr. Stephen Rao with the Cleveland Clinic, memory is a function particularly affected by sleep.

"We acquire new memories, but many times we have to have an adequate amount of sleep for those memories to consolidate," said Rao.

As a brain health specialist, Dr. Rao points to a number of studies that show how insufficient sleep impacts your ability to store memories.

With Alzheimer's Disease, he says, there is typically a build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain. According to Dr. Rao, recent research on sleep and memory loss points to the idea that abnormal sleep may set the stage for people to develop Alzheimer's Disease.

In fact, experts are still trying to determine whether the disease causes disrupted sleep or if the lack of sleep causes Alzheimer's.

Recent research has shown that even people with healthy brains can show signs of abnormal plaque build-up in the brain after just one night of disrupted sleep. Dr. Rao says making sleep a priority puts your brain in a better position to retain memories for years to come.

"This time of the year, during the holidays, we have so many chores that we try to accomplish, and perhaps we don't leave ourselves enough time for sleep, and that's really important for our overall cognitive functioning," said Dr. Rao.

Healthy sleep habits begin in childhood. The National Sleep Foundation says very young children require significantly more sleep than adults -- anywhere from 14 to 17 hours a day.

For school-aged children up to 13 years old, nine to 11 hours of sleep are recommended, and teenagers up to 17 years of age should get eight to 10 hours of sleep.

Adults 18 and up should get seven to nine hours each night.

According to Dr. Mask, these are recently updated sleep recommendations. "We talk all the time about the importance of good eating habits and exercise, but getting the appropriate amount of sleep is important for your physical and mental health," said Mask.