Are you a night owl who can’t fall asleep? Are you half dead in the morning without several cups of coffee? If so, you may have an increased risk of developing dementia later in life.
Our “body clock,” or circadian rhythm, regulates our sleep/wake cycles.
A healthy circadian rhythm has you alert in the morning, tired at night, and able to sleep through the night.
When it becomes imbalanced your risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases increases.
Dementia and circadian rhythm share same area of the brain
The area of the brain that governs the circadian rhythm, the hippocampus, also plays a role in short-term memory and learning. The hippocampus is the first target of degeneration in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
An imbalanced circadian rhythm could point to problems in the hippocampus and an increased risk of dementia later in life.
Studies link circadian rhythm imbalance with dementia risk
A recent study found the risk of dementia was higher in older women with weaker circadian rhythms.
A 2008 study also found that tracking circadian rhythms over time could predict cognitive decline in healthy older adults.
Circadian rhythm balance goes beyond dementia
Dementia isn’t the only risk. Studies have also linked an imbalanced circadian rhythm with cardiovascular disease, weight gain, mood disturbances, constipation, prostate cancer, and breast cancer.
Are you at risk for dementia later in life?
How do you know if your circadian rhythm is off balance? Look at whether you suffer from any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Difficulty waking in the morning
- Not feeling rested after sleep
- Poor recovery from exercise
- Drop of energy between 4 –7 p.m.
Preventing dementia naturally
How can you normalize your circadian rhythm and lower the risk for dementia? The answer lies largely in regulating cortisol, an adrenal stress hormone. Studies show high cortisol from physical or mental stress degenerates the hippocampus.
The stress from inflammation in particular has been shown to be associated with atrophy of the hippocampus. This has been evidenced on blood panels by higher levels of homocysteine, a telltale sign of inflammation.
Lower inflammation to prevent dementia
One of the best ways to normalize the circadian rhythm is to reduce inflammation; your diet is the first place to start. Address food sensitivities, such as to gluten, lower the amount of starchy foods and sweets to stabilize blood sugar, and eliminate processed foods. Ask my office about an anti-inflammatory diet program.
Other tools I can help you with include addressing brain health and chemistry. Chronic stress can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that regulate mood and wellbeing. Restoring balance to neurotransmitters helps regulate the body’s clock.
Adrenal adaptogens, herbs that help modulate adrenal cortisol levels, can significantly balance the circadian rhythm and protect the hippocampus, as can liposomal phosphatidylserine.
Of course, establishing healthy sleep habits and reducing lifestyle stressors will also help lower cortisol levels and normalize your circadian rhythm.