How did you sleep last night? If not so well, then you may want to prioritize that aspect of your health, according to a new study that was just published, linking sleep to dementia risk. The study found if you sleep less than six hours a night, after 50, it increases your risk of dementia by 30 percent. The New York Times reported on the findings and people repeated it to me all day long. Our family is known for not needing or getting much sleep, and my mom (the most energetic of all) couldn't tell you what day it was for the last years of her life. For anyone who is used to boasting that they don't need sleep, this study was a wake-up call to make sleep as much of a priority as hitting the gym or the salad bar.

People often are so focused on other aspects of their health, like eating a plant-based diet or getting daily exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight, that they neglect the importance of sleep. Instead of insisting "I don't need much sleep," tell yourself your brain may not operate as well on less sleep. Say: "I do need sleep, I just don't know it yet."

The study looked at sleep data from nearly 8,000 participants and found that those who slept less than six hours in their 50s and 60s had a 30 percent higher rate of dementia than those who slept the "normal 7 hours." What this study didn't do was look at sleep patterns in earlier life, so it may be safe to assume that getting enough sleep is a good idea, at any age.

The study followed people for 30 years to measure whether significant changes in sleep patterns were related to increased cases of dementia and found that sleeping less or more than normal is also associated with the brain disorder: "Observational studies show both short and long sleep duration to be associated with the increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia," the study said.

Alzheimer’s is known to begin 15 or more years before someone sees symptoms of memory loss, executive function loss, or irrational thoughts, so the authors of the study said that erratic sleep patterns during that time could be even bee considered an early effect of the disease.

But their biggest takeaway is: "Persistent short sleep duration was associated with an increased risk of dementia." So sleep should be considered a health priority, along with diet.

So how do you get to sleep? Diet plays a role

The role of diet and quality sleep has been studied and reported on. Lack of adequate sleep has been linked to a variety of causes, including ill health, aging, and stress, according to Columbia University’s Neurology Department. But it also has to do with what we eat.

The nutrients in plant-based foods such as green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds can help you get better quality sleep, including iron, zinc, and magnesium. A 2020 study in Sleep Medicine Reviews linked iron deficiency to restless leg syndrome, which can disrupt sleep. Not getting enough magnesium has been linked to sleep in a study in Nutrients. Magnesium is found in nuts and seeds. Zinc is known to help your brain's circadian rhythms which regulate your sleep cycles, according to studies. Zinc is plentiful in beans, peas, nuts such as cashews and almonds, and chickpeas.

Bottom Line: to be brain healthier, gt more sleep. For  5 Key Nutrients For A Good Night's Sleep, check out The Beet's recommendations for what to eat.

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