Whether or not you tend to remember your dreams, everyone can recall that most terrifying nightmare. Maybe you were being chased by someone or something. Or you were late for a big exam. Or all your teeth fell out. Whatever it was, you probably woke up in a panic, only to realize (with enormous relief) that it was just a dream. But if you tend to have scary dreams often—and, even more telling, if you frequently scream, kick, or thrash around in your sleep—your brain could be at risk. Don’t let these 13 bizarre facts about dreams keep you up at night.
Frequent nightmares could be caused by REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), a condition that causes patients to physically act out violent dreams. Researchers have found that more than 80 percent of RBD patients eventually develop a neurological disease, such as Parkinson’s or dementia. Learn the 16 habits that increase your dementia risk.
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1. Chamomile Tea
Tea is probably the food equivalent of relaxation, and for good reason. The tea that is most associated with rest and relaxation is chamomile tea. Drinking this can increase glycine, a chemical that relaxes nerves and muscles, acting as a sedative.
Your excuse to have hummus as your midnight cravings has some truth to it if you’re having a hard time going to sleep. Chickpeas actually have the same chemical as turkey does, tryptophan, which can help you rest when your body converts it to B vitamin, which helps create serotonin. Serotonin is associated with your sleep/melatonin levels.
Apparently there’s a natural sugar found in honey that raises insulin, but also allows tryptophan to enter the brain more easily. A bonus tip: Combine honey and chamomile tea for an even better drink to sip on before bed. And if you’re feeling under the weather, you can add lemon juice or ginger to the mix to help fight off your cold.
One of the many fruits on this list that can help you fall asleep faster is cherries. This is one of the fruits that actually boosts melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep. Be aware that when we’re talking about cherries, it’s not the sweet or maraschino cherries, but the tart ones that do the trick.
Personally, I’m not really surprised about this, because sometimes when I have a banana, I get a little tired. Weird, right? The reason this happens is because it contains potassium and magnesium, which are muscle relaxants. It also contains an amino acid called L-tryptophan, which changes to 5-HTP that then converts to serotonin, which can help you fall asleep.
The vegetable that many people refer to as a "superfood" is full of calcium, which helps the brain use tryptophan to produce melatonin. Others in the green, leafy vegetable category that can help you fall asleep faster are also spinach and mustard greens.
7. Almonds and other nuts
This is a great, crunchy snack to munch on when a craving hits around midnight, but you also have to wake up early and get enough sleep. Almonds are specifically great because they have magnesium, which is shown to improve sleep quality. However, there’s also other nuts in general, like walnuts, pistachios, brazil nuts, etc. that you can choose from if you don’t like almonds.
8. Dark Chocolate
Go ahead, indulge in that dark chocolate dessert. It’s not just one of the best things in dessert, but it’s actually good for you (as long you don’t eat it by the barrel). Specifically, it’s good for sleep because it’s rich in magnesium, which helps cells to cope in the body’s circadian rhythm/internal clock.
#SpoonTip: Make these dark chocolate avocado truffles for dessert post-dinner. It’s so easy to make, and pretty healthy, too.
9. Sweet potato
This diverse root vegetable, which serves as an alternative to regular fries or as a replacement for the bread in breakfast toast, can help you doze off because it’s a good source of potassium, magnesium, and calcium. However, the mineral that really accounts for its sleeping properties is potassium. Additionally, sweet potatoes are a complex carbohydrate, which aids in sleep, too.
This is great news for dairy lovers (because, cheese). You’ve probably heard that a warm glass of milk can put you to sleep if you’re not tired, and that’s actually somewhat true. It’s not just milk though; it’s any dairy product, like cheese and yogurt. So you can whip out the cheese and crackers or yogurt before you go to bed. There’s science behind this in that the calcium in dairy products helps the brain use the tryptophan found in dairy to help make melatonin.
“For some reason, the cells in the REM sleep area are the first to be sickened, and then the neurodegenerative disease spreads up into the brain and affects the other areas that cause disorders like Parkinson’s disease,” John Peever, PhD, the neuroscientist at the University of Toronto who led this new research, told Live Science. “REM behavior disorder is, in fact, the best-known predictor of the onset of Parkinson’s disease.” Find out 25 things your dreams reveal about you.
Two studies from 2013 also found that more than 80 percent of RBD patients developed a neurodegenerative disorder within a decade, but those studies were only able to show correlation. The more recent study, which was presented at the Canadian Neuroscience Meeting in 2017, proves causality.
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The wrong meds
While not getting enough sleep may cause memory problems, taking prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids may cause symptoms that mimic dementia. "There are some medications that can cause confusion and make dementia worse," says Mollie Scott, PharmD, Regional Associate Dean at the University of North Carolina’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy. Common medications that do this are medicines with anticholinergic properties—many prescription and over-the-counter medications have these properties, including those that treat incontinence and COPD as well as some antihistamines, sleep medications, and antidepressants, says Scott. One common offender is diphenhydramine, which is found in Benadryl and over-the-counter sleep aids such as ZzzQuil and Unisom. "Older adults often use these without realizing that they can negatively affect memory, cause constipation, and cause urinary retention," says Scott. "I recently saw a woman in her 70s who was very worried about her memory, but it turns out she couldn’t sleep and was taking 50 mg of diphenhydramine at bedtime. Once she discontinued the medication, her symptoms improved." Learn how too much sleep can also increase your dementia risk.
Urinary tract infections
The typical symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI)—fever, pain, and urgency—are often missed in older people and if left untreated can cause symptoms that mimic dementia such as delirium, confusion, agitation, and hallucinations. "In nursing homes and hospitals, UTIs are rampant and a lot of patients are thought to have a sudden onset of dementia," says James. "If they are given an antibiotic, the symptoms will go away, but unless you are a nurse or medical professional, you will not necessarily know this, and if left untreated, you could have an infection." Fever along with the other side effects people experience when their bodies are fighting off infections, such as Lyme disease, meningitis, and encephalitis, can also cause dementia-like symptoms.
A number of recent studies have shown a link between hearing loss and dementia, and some experts believe that interventions such as professionally fitted hearing aids could potentially delay or prevent dementia. One study found that hearing loss is associated with accelerated cognitive decline in older adults and that seniors with hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing, while another study revealed a link between hearing loss and accelerated brain tissue loss. "You ‘hear’ with your brain, not your ears," says Carole Rogin, President of the Hearing Industries Association (HIA). Unaddressed hearing loss not only affects the listener’s ability to perceive the sound accurately, but it also affects higher-level cognitive function, explains Rogin. Specifically, it interferes with the listener’s ability to accurately process the auditory information and make sense of it. "The latest research tells us that even with mild hearing loss, there may be a cognitive brain drain that could be taking resources away from remembering what you heard," says Rogin. Here are some more habits that cut your risk of dementia.
Water on the brain
Normal-pressure hydrocephalus (NPH), the accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that causes the ventricles in the brain to become enlarged, can cause walking problems, urinary difficulty, and memory loss. According to the Hydrocephalus Association, more than 700,000 Americans have NPH, but less than 20 percent receive an appropriate diagnosis, leading them to be misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. "Referred to as water on the brain, the condition is a buildup of cerebral fluid that causes pressure, and that pressure is exerted on the brain tissue and causes problems," says James. "If left untreated it can cause long-term dementia, but if doctors can use a shunt system and remove the fluid, the person’s symptoms can improve."
People with depression sometimes get a condition called pseudodementia, a type of cognitive impairment that mimics dementia but is actually caused by mental health conditions (such as depression) rather than those of the central nervous system. "The brain is the last explored frontier and not everything is understood in the medical community about the link between dementia and depression," says James. What is known is that studiesshow that the condition, which is typically seen in older adults, can be reversed if the depression is treated. "Depression can make the brain less efficient, and cause cognitive clouding and confusion, and difficulty with decision-making," says Dylan Wint, MD, director of education in Neurodegenerative Disorders and director of fellowship in Cognitive Disorders for Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. "There is also evidence that important memory structures in the brain can shrink during episodes of depression. It is unclear what causes this shrinkage, but the structures seem to recover once the episode of depression is resolved."
"Stroke, head injury, concussion, anything that physically happens to the brain is a risk factor for dementia because it affects the physical structure of the brain tissue," says James. Head injuries caused by sports or car accidents in younger adults and those caused by falls, especially in the elderly, can cause subdural hematomas (bleeding between the surface of the brain and the covering over the brain) and can cause dementia-like symptoms such as memory loss and confusion. While some traumas can lead to permanent brain damage, research shows that these symptoms can be reversed with medication or surgery. Learn the everyday habits of people with exceptional memory.
Most of us get sufficient amounts of vitamin B-12 from the foods we eat—dairy, eggs, meat, and fish—but some people have a vitamin B-12 deficiency caused by a rare condition, called pernicious anemia, that if left untreated can cause symptoms that mimic dementia. People with this condition are not able to absorb vitamin B-12 from the foods they eat and the deficiency can lead to confusion, irritability, and apathy. Luckily, regular B-12 injections can cure the deficiency and relieve the symptoms. Other deficiencies that can cause symptoms of dementia include dehydration, not getting enough of B-1 or B-6 vitamins, or getting too little or too much sodium or calcium. Researchhas also shown a link between insufficient amounts of vitamin D and dementia. "In the United States, these deficiencies are most commonly caused by having a diet that is poor in variation and/or quality, such as eating junk food all the time," says Wint. "This can result from lack of knowledge, psychiatric disturbance, substance use, or other circumstances." These are the symptoms of a vitamin B-12 deficiency you need to know.
Heart and lung problems
Poor cardiovascular health such as arteriosclerosis (often called ‘hardening of the arteries’) or anything that is preventing good blood flow or too much blood flow to the brain (mini strokes) can put people at increased risk for memory impairment and dementia, says James. "If you have good cardiovascular health you are more likely to have good cognitive health." Following a heart healthy diet such as the Mediterranean diet has been shown to slow cognitive decline and lower the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, another study shows that impaired lung function and chronic lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), which can restrict oxygen levels to the brain, can cause an increased risk for memory loss and dementia. Early intervention and treatment of COPD, however, may help delay or even prevent the onset of dementia. Here’s why the Mediterranean diet is so good for aging brains.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 29.1 million people in the United States have diabetes. Diabetes causes the body’s blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise higher than normal (also called hyperglycemia), and when these levels get too high or too low (hypoglycemia), studies have shown that people with the condition can experience memory loss and other dementia-like symptoms. In many cases, adjusting sugar levels can reverse the problem, but having diabetes can increase the risk of developing long-term memory problems and it has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. "Alzheimer’s disease is often referred to as ‘Type III’ diabetes," says James. This is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s.
While alcohol abuse destroys brain cells in areas critical for memory, decision-making, and balance, people who abuse alcohol may experience dementia-like symptoms because they are suffering from a vitamin deficiency. (Are you drinking too much? Here’s how to recognize the safest amount of alcohol to drink.) Thiamine (B-1) helps brain cells produce energy, but when levels fall too low, brain cells cannot generate enough energy to function properly—the result is called Korsakoff syndrome. "Thiamine is depleted in people who abuse alcohol, explains James, and thiamine deficiency leads to memory loss, confusion, and other cognitive challenges." While giving up drinking won’t auto-correct the situation, says James, in some cases the effects can be reversed or avoided all together if one maintains a healthy lifestyle. "It is estimated that up to one-third of dementia risk can be avoided by regular physical exercise, maintaining an active mental life, preventing diabetes, avoiding smoking, eliminating high blood pressure, treating depression, and using alcohol minimally or moderately (1-2 drinks per day)," says Wint. These are the daily habits that increase your risk of dementia.
And while RBD is terrifying for those who suffer from it, the condition could help doctors identify who’s most at risk for other neurodegenerative disorders. According to Peever, the next step in his research would be to develop a drug therapy that can treat patients who have been diagnosed with RBD. “Such a therapy would likely not cure the patient of RBD, since the brain cells that cause that disorder would have already been damaged,” he told Live Science, “but it could prevent the disease from spreading to the rest of the brain.”
Scientists still have a long way to go before they eliminate neurodegenerative disorders. But there are a few things that they know can help prevent these conditions. Check out the 50 everyday habits that reduce your risk of dementia.
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Lush Sleepy Lotion, $39.98
"I’ve used it for several nights since my purchase and last night was the first time in several years that I did not wake up the entire night," wrote one Amazon reviewer.
Bath & Body Works, $21.74
"Use this sleep enchancing pillow mist each night before bed. Infused with Lavender Essential Oil and Vanilla Absolute," the product reads.
Sprayable Sleep Melatonin Spray, $59.99
"I’ve struggled with insomnia for well over a decade at this point. Would be an understatement to say I’ve tried everything on the market – I’ve tried all of that, *and* then just about everything off the market, too," wrote one user. "This completely turned my sleep on its head."
Aphorism Night is Young, $93.00
Filled with vitamins and minerals, this beloved serum is infused with lavender oil to give you the ultimate beauty rest.
Crystal Dreams Bath Salts, $44.00
"Experience inner calm and peace while the organic essential oils of lavender, ylang ylang, and geranium surround you," the product says.
100% Pure Lavender Oil, $11.39
Squash anxiety and get a better night’s sleep with this lavender serum.
Badger Sleep Balm, $5.49
Infused with lavender and bergamot, this calming blend of oils is perfect after a bad day.
milk + honey Bath Soak, $26.00
"Take a deep breath and soak up the calming blend lavender, chamomile, and neroli oils — then exhale," the description reads.
Deep Sleep Night Oil, $45.97
Infused with lavender, this floral scent "helps lull you to sleep, feel relaxed, hyrated and gently scented."
Aromatherapy Essential Oil, $24.95
Made with natural ingredients, this aromatherapy candle will evoke a sense of calmness and improve your quality of sleep.
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