I Don’t Expect to Sleep Through the Night

October 18, 2013

I happened to catch an interesting story on NPR yesterday about new research on the benefits of sleep. The super non-sciencey version is that our brains (like other animals’ brains) actually flush out toxins while we sleep, which has implications for research on Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related illnesses. I didn’t know this before yesterday, but apparently dementia disorders are overwhelmingly associated with sleep disorders.

My interest in the story is twofold. First, I’ve struggled with insomnia for pretty much as long as I can remember. I basically thought this was just an unfortunate side effect of being me, but as it turns out, it’s actually a very common symptom of bipolar disorder, and one that is delightfully (for the most part) treatable with the right combination of medication.

Secondly, my grandmother had Alzheimer’s. Her deterioration was deeply painful for my mother and her siblings, and a fear of developing dementia is now something my mother and I share. Like the risk of developing bipolar disorder (which is pretty huge if one parent has it), the risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases considerably if the disease also runs in your family. The initial articles I found about potential links between bipolar and Alzheimer’s made my brain hurt (on account of not being so sciencey) but I would be curious to see if research on two conditions so strongly linked to sleep disorders could both be aided by this new discovery on sleep and the brain.