Dr. Ashley Sanderlin is a WAM Research Grant Recipient, co-funded with the Alzheimer’s Association. Her study is focused on the connection between sleep and diet to Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). Read her answers below to learn more about what new healthy habits to implement into your daily life. 

WAM: It’s spring —  a time when lots of people clean house, air out closets and examine lifestyle habits to see if they still are the best and healthiest to take them into summer. If you could give women 3 lifestyle habits to examine, what would they be and why? 

Dr. Sanderlin: When it comes to general health, women tend to be more in touch with their bodies and we know when we don’t feel good or something is just not right. Overall how healthy do you feel? If you think you need to tweak some things, make a plan and do them. Lose the 5 pounds that slow you down, or go see the doctor about that pain in your back. Make a decision to do something to make you feel better.

For your sleep health, oftentimes we don’t think about the question, how would you rate your sleep quality? If you realize you’re not sleeping through the night, deal with it. Sleep is important to your health today and in the future. (Follow the tips below.)

And as for physical activity, coming out of a tough year in quarantine, what is one way you can move more this summer?  Scheduling times to walk, swim or dance with a partner or friend is a great way to make sure it happens.  The bottom line is, move your body!

WAM: What is a keto diet and how do you think it may impact sleep?

Dr. Sanderlin: A ketogenic diet is one where a person reduces the carbohydrates they consume and increases their fat intake. In our research, we use a modified Mediterranean ketogenic diet, which is a healthier keto meal plan that incorporates healthy fat sources, leafy greens, vibrant vegetables and allows a glass of wine per day. Previous studies have shown that a keto diet increases the time people spend in the REM stage of sleep.

Spending time in REM at night is important for memory and thinking abilities. However, as people age, especially when a person develops cognitive impairments, their sleep changes and often becomes more disrupted with less time spent in REM and deep sleep stages. We are testing for the first time whether a keto diet may help with increasing the time in REM and deep sleep stages and the impact of this shift on cognitive performance.

WAM: You’re studying the impact of a keto diet on both sleep health and cognitive function in people with mild memory concerns. Why is this research important and how is diet associated with brain function?

Dr. Sanderlin: The foods that we eat do not just have an impact on our heart health but also on the function of our brain. Over time our diet may significantly affect brain function as it relates to our memory and thinking. Our sleep health also can affect the structure and function of the brain, especially if we live many years with undiagnosed sleep apnea or other sleep conditions.

People who develop Alzheimer’s disease show a decreased ability of the brain to metabolize glucose, the main energy source for all of our body’s cells. In our studies, we are testing to see how an alternate energy source, ketones, can aid in providing an efficient energy source for the brain and body that may boost cognitive performance and provide better sleep quality in people with mild cognitive impairments at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.  

WAM: What would you advise our many women readers to do if they have difficulties with sleep?

Dr. Sanderlin: The first step would be to assess your sleep habits:

  1. How long do you sleep?
  2. What is the environment you sleep in?
  3. Are there habits that could impact your sleep – television, lights on, caffeine before bed, meals or sweets within an hour before sleep, etc.

Then, determine if changing your sleep habits may improve how you rate your quality of sleep.  Alternatively, if after sleeping it takes you a while to feel well or get the day going, talk with your doctor about how you feel and if they would recommend a sleep study.

We spend a large part of our lives sleeping but many times, especially as women, we prioritize many people and things over our sleep. Maybe take an opportunity this Spring to wake up to the importance of sleep to your brain health and make sure you protect it.

Get to know more about Dr. Ashley Sanderlin here.