Almost half of my patients come in with concerns about memory on their list of issues to address. A few other super common symptoms include “brain fog” (i.e. cognitive difficulties), fatigue, and dizziness.

There are a number of potential causes of all of these symptoms, but one thing they all have in common: they can all occur as a result of sleep deprivation.

According to the CDC, some 40% of Americans are chronically sleep deprived—defined as unintentionally nodding off at least once during the previous month.

Why does sleep deprivation cause memory problems? One possible (chilling) explanation is that sleep gives your brain time to “clean up” toxic proteins that can accumulate throughout waking hours, including beta amyloid and tau—the proteins linked with Alzheimer’s Disease. In this study, mice who were only allowed to sleep four hours per night were not only impaired in their ability to recall and learn new tasks, they were found to have an increased level of tau in their brains. 

Although hours of necessary sleep do vary per person, they decrease with age. This chart from the National Sleep Foundation shows the range of hours required for each age group; the blue strips are recommended for everyone in the range, but the turquoise strips above and below the recommended value may be appropriate for a given individual.

It’s temping to undercut your sleep time in order to accomplish all the things on your to-do list, I know. Like all health maintenance measures, results are not always immediate and so they can be hard to prioritize—especially in the face of “do it now!” demands. But considering the list of potential serious consequences of sustained sleep deprivation, prioritizing adequate sleep for your body is one of the best things you can do for your health.

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