DEAR DR. MICHELLE,
How important is sleep to cognitive functioning? I’m up every night and have brain fog all day.
Sleep is very important in maintaining cognitive functioning, especially as we age. A more obvious connection is that when we’re tired and groggy, we’re not at our best; our minds are less sharp. We may also be moody, impatient, and inattentive. These are all symptoms worth addressing for improved quality of life as well as better brain functioning.
In addition, it turns out that deep sleep is a necessary condition for the brain to rid itself of toxins. People who do not spend enough time in deep, restful stages of sleep are at risk for developing dementias associated with toxic build up in the brain.
Many things affect sleep as people get older, including changes in hormones, medical conditions, and medications, or perhaps stress or mood changes. If you are not sleeping well, please discuss this with your doctor. Figuring out what is causing your sleep disturbance will be a helpful first step in developing a treatment plan. When it comes to fostering brain health, there really is nothing like a good night’s sleep!
DEAR DR. MICHELLE,
I’m only in my 50s, but starting to worry about memory loss. Sometimes, I forget where I parked my car in a public lot or can’t quickly remember names of places I should know. Should I be concerned?
We all experience cognitive decline as we age. Even at 50, we may forget some words, the name of a restaurant we went to, and maybe even where we parked our car at the mall. These experiences, in and of themselves, do not necessarily mean that something is wrong. In most cases of normal aging, the word will come eventually (but, perhaps not at the right time!) as will the name of the restaurant. We will, likely, trace our steps back to our car and realize, later, that we were lost in another thought when parking and never paid full enough attention as to where we parked.
For a much smaller percentage of people, noticeable cognitive changes may be a sign of something more concerning. This is generally true when such incidences interfere with daily functioning or occur frequently enough to pose a regular set back.
In any case, don’t try to be your own “judge.” We are rarely accurate about ourselves in this regard. Mention it to your doctor and consider a brief cognitive screen. The time and energy spent on being proactive will be more valuable than that spent on worrying.
*Michelle Papka, Ph.D. is the Founder of The Cognitive and Research Center of New Jersey (The CRCNJ) in Springfield, NJ. The mission of The CRCNJ is to provide no-cost diagnostic, treatment and supportive resources through clinical research opportunities to people affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders.