The Surprising Connection Between Sleep and Alzheimer’s

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

March 13, 2015

  • Why Alzheimer’s drugs keep failing
  • What if we got it all wrong to start with?
  • The best ways to clear your brain of plaque and toxic waste

When I walk into my clinic each morning, I never know what the day will bring. But I do know one thing. I will almost always have a patient who either has a parent with Alzheimer’s, is starting to show symptoms themselves, or is deeply concerned that they’ll end up with this mind-numbing disease.

The idea of developing Alzheimer’s is a terrifying thought. There’s no doubt about that. And researchers are scrambling to find a cure. But so far, none of them have worked.

Alzheimer’s disease is the result of a cascade of changes that occur in your brain. Clumps of a protein called beta amyloid begin building. These form amyloid plaques, which damage neurons and trigger an inflammatory response. At the same time, another protein called tau begins tangling around nerve cells in the brain.

So you would think the best “cure” for stopping the disease would be to get rid of the plaque. But do you know what happened when Eli Lily created a drug to kill off this brain-altering plaque?

Instead of “curing” Alzheimer’s, killing off the amyloid plaque made the patients’ condition deteriorate much more quickly!

Another drug targeted toward clearing amyloid increased the amount of fluid outside of the blood vessels (extravascular fluid) and raised the risk of micro-hemorrhages. In some patients, the drug increased confusion and psychiatric problems.

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So, why don’t these drugs work?

Well, not all amyloid is bad. The type that’s dangerous is known as amyloid-beta 42, or Abeta 42. But another form, Abeta 40, works as an antioxidant. In fact, it appears Abeta 40 actually protect neurons from Abeta 42 damage.

So the answer isn’t to develop a drug that wipes amyloid from the brain. Instead, new breakthroughs are giving us much better answers.

What if it’s NOT an over production of amyloid that leads to amyloid plaques? Instead, what if certain mechanisms that clear waste products from the brain aren’t working properly?

This might very well be the case.

You see, during sleep your brain flips on a “drainage” system that opens up between the cells of your brain. It works a lot like the lymphatic system, but it’s managed by brain cells called glial cells. Researchers are calling it the glymphatic system.

When this system is flipped on, cerebrospinal fluid rushes between your brain cells to pick up toxic waste products, like Abeta 42. This “trash” then goes to the liver where it’s broken down for disposal.

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If this process doesn’t occur, waste will accumulate in your brain. And eventually it will suffocate and kill the neuronal network.

Not getting enough sleep is one reason this system might fail. This process turns itself off when you wake up in the morning or during the night. So if you’re not getting enough sleep, your brain isn’t getting cleared of waste.

Another reason it might not work well is if the glial cells quit working properly. This may occur with aging or due to injury. But either way, the underlying cause is likely going to be inflammation and oxidative stress.

Here’s what you can do to save your brain and ensure you’re glymphatic system gets top-notch protection.

Clearly, the first order of business is getting enough sleep. I just sent out an issue of Advanced Natural Wellness that talks about one of the key reasons you might not be getting all your Z’s in. It also gives a few great tips on how you can get to bed on time, and stay asleep all night long. You can read it here.

In addition to sleep, bolstering your antioxidant status will do you a world of good. It will help cut down on oxidation and inflammation that may be reducing your ability to clear toxic waste from your brain.

Resveratrol is at the top of the list. This antioxidant – found in grapes and wine – turns on the anti-aging gene SIRT1, which is critical for microglial signaling. It doesn’t inhibit Abeta production; however, it does promote the clearance of it. SIRT1 also reduces telomere shortening and revs up your mitochondria. Both of these are critical when it comes to mental health.

You can amplify the results you get with resveratrol by combining it with its highly potent cousin, pterostilbene. It’s a whopping four times more bioavailable than resveratrol alone. I recommend at least 50 mg. of resveratrol and 25 mg. of pterostilbene each day.

Omega-3 fatty acids are another winner. When you eat these fatty acids, they get transported to the brain. Once they get there, they’re incorporated into neurons and glial cells. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), in particular, can significantly decrease the toxic effects of Abeta 42. And like resveratrol, Omega-3’s help prevent your telomeres from shortening.

Look for a fish oil supplement that contains oil from fresh, wild-caught, deep sea fish. And make sure it’s been molecularly distilled and tested for purity (i.e., no mercury.) I recommend 4000 mg daily to protect your brain and lengthen telomeres.

I also recommend eating a Mediterranean style diet. This way of eating is linked to lower rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s. That’s because the foods in this diet are anti-inflammatory. They’re loaded with antioxidants and healthy fats that your brain needs to thrive.

All of these tips will help stave off inflammation that may affect your glymphatic system and contribute to your chances of Alzheimer’s disease. So don’t wait. Implement these changes as soon as you can to protect your precious mental resources.


Sperling R, et al. Amyloid-related imaging abnormalities in patients with Alzheimer’s disease treated with bapineuzumab: a retrospective analysis. Lancet Neurol. 2012 Mar;11(3):241-9.

Chen J, et al. SIRT1 protects against microglia-dependent amyloid-beta toxicity through inhibiting NF-kappaB signaling. J Biol Chem. 2005 Dec 2;280(48):40364-74.

Marambaud P, et al. Resveratrol promotes clearance of Alzheimer’s disease amyloid-beta peptides. J Biol Chem. 2005 Nov 11;280(45):37377-82.

Bazinet, RP, et al. Polyunsaturated fatty acids and their metabolites in brain function and disease. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 15, 771–785 (2014)

Veszelka S, et al. J Alzheimers Dis. 2013;36(3):487-501. Docosahexaenoic acid reduces amyloid-ß induced toxicity in cells of the neurovascular unit.


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