Alzheimer’s disease, Sleep and Melatonin

If there is one health worry that seems to eclipse all others when it comes to getting older, it is the thought of falling prey to Dementia; a condition that instils the ‘fear factor’ in us all. Indeed, a study conducted by Alzheimer’s Research UK has shown that Dementia is in fact the public’s number one fear ahead of cancer. But does this need to be the case?

With over 30 years spent researching Alzheimer’s disease and over 200 published peer-reviewed papers, Professor Dale Bredesen, Augustus Rose Professor at UCLA and Founding President of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, has developed The Bredesen Protocol™, a multi-factorial approach that includes diet and lifestyle changes, and that has so far successfully and sustainably reversed early Alzheimer’s disease in 90% of 110 people.

The Bredesen Protocol™ uses Western medicine for diagnostics and Eastern medicine as the framework for the components that are going to make us well. These include a plethora of lifestyle and nutrition related changes to day to day life and today we look at just one of these; sleep.

It’s long been known that people with Alzheimer’s disease don’t tend to sleep well and spend more time awake at night. However there has been much uncertainty as to whether poor sleep actually contributes to the onset of Alzheimer’s. In this blog we look at the scientific mechanisms by which poor sleep may contribute to the early onset of Alzheimer’s and what we can do to improve our nightly sleep pattern.

The Bredesen Protocol™ – A quick recap

The Bredesen Protocol™ targets the multiple underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease, with a goal to improve cognitive function.  The list below outlines the targets of the programme and the physiological biomarkers that it aims to change to improve cognition. It simultaneously addresses:

  • Insoluble and soluble beta-amyloid
  • Tau and tau tangles
  • Metabolic issues
  • Inflammation
  • Toxicity
  • Insufficiency of trophic factors
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Gut health
  • Genetic errors
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Cognitive stimulationLifestyle factors that contribute to the pathology such as poor sleep; stress; lack of exercise; poor diet high in sugar

The same programme can be used by healthy individuals wanting to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and, as Professor Bredesen discovered, it seems to be a protocol that will optimise every area of health. You can find out more about The Bredesen Protocol™ and Cytoplan’s ongoing collaboration with MPI Cognition in the US in our recent blog – The Bredesen Protocol™ – Is nutrition the key to Alzheimer’s?

In light of this collaboration, Professor Bredesen will be visiting the UK this Autumn to provide a talk surrounding the ongoing work concerned with The Bredesen Protocol™.

To find out more about this event please follow the link.

 Sleep and Alzheimer’s

8 hours of uninterrupted sleep is probably a dream for most of us. But sleep is a vital part of The Bredesen Protocol™ and indeed in attempting to reverse and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.


During sleep our body cells detoxify and cleanse, and our brain cells are no exception to this. When we are in darkness the pineal gland releases a hormone called melatonin (we have written a blog on the hormone ‘melatonin’ – please follow this link to read more) which among other things is responsible for restful sleep.

Recent evidence from a study published in the Frontiers of Science has found a significant role for melatonin in neurodegenerative disorders. It is protective against:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Huntingdon’s disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Multiple sclerosis

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland – a ‘pea sized’ gland located just above the middle of the brain. It is the hormone responsible for the regulation of our internal body clock which is also referred to as the “circadian rhythm”.

The production of melatonin is influenced by the amount of light in the external environment. Darkness stimulates the production of melatonin while brightness produces the opposite effect. The presence of light – whether it be artificial or natural – inhibits the production of melatonin.

The precursor to melatonin is serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is derived from the amino acid tryptophan. Within the pineal gland, serotonin is acetylated and then methylated to yield melatonin.


  • Up-regulates antioxidant defence systems
  • Helps reverse inflammatory processes
  • Aids the breakdown of beta amyloid plaque
  • Protects brain mitochondria from free radical attack
  • Inhibits tau tangles from forming
  • Helps promote Brain Derived Neurotrophic Growth Factors for the development of new healthy neurons

The role of Melatonin in Neurodegenerative diseases

Amyloid Plaques

During sleep, metabolic activity is switched off and catabolic activity is initiated which places our bodies into a state of autophagy; a process which allows the degradation and recycling of cells all around the body.

One of the most important phases of autophagy is the breakdown of abnormal proteins such as amyloid plaques – the build-up of which, as mentioned above, is largely associated with the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease.

Indeed, research cited on the National Institute of Aging Website backs up this claim:

“Studies in laboratory animals show a direct link between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease. One study in mice, led by researchers at Washington University, St. Louis, showed that beta-amyloid levels naturally rose during wakefulness and fell during sleep (Kang et al., 2009). Mice deprived of sleep for 21 days showed significantly greater beta-amyloid plaques than those that slept normally. Increasing sleep had the opposite effect—it reduced the amyloid load.”

Free radicals

The process by which neurodegenerative diseases occur is extremely complex and multifactorial; there is very rarely one cause. However, one known factor is the action of ‘free radicals’ that cause oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. When an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants occurs in the body this causes oxidative injury – a known precursor to neurodegenerative disease.

Free radicals cause the destruction of cells, particularly in the brain where the neurons are so exposed.

Research has suggested that “melatonin exerts an important protective role against free radical injury by stimulating gene expression for antioxidant enzymes and it may be considered as a potential therapeutic agent in some age-related neurodegenerative diseases.”

Scientists have also considered that the high incidence of neurodegenerative disease increases with age because of the inefficiency of antioxidant defences and the increase of mitochondrial dysfunction. Because melatonin can efficiently cross the blood-brain barrier and has a low toxicity, scientists consider that it could be useful as part of a treatment for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Mild Cognitive Impairment

Research has also suggested that subjects with Mild Cognitive Impairment – a common precursor to Alzheimer’s disease – showed significant cognitive improvement when supplementing with melatonin:

“A recent human study assessed the benefit of melatonin in 50 sufferers of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a collection of conditions that precedes dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. After giving melatonin 3-9 mg daily at bedtime for 9-18 months to half of the study group, researchers found that the supplemented patients had significantly better performance on a host of neuropsychological tests while experiencing improvements in sleep quality and wakefulness.”

Melatonin is only available on prescription in the UK in doses of over 1mg. Doses vary from 2-4mg at bedtime. However, new research shows we need much less melatonin than was previously thought – 100ug/day women and 150ug/day for men and at that level it is safe to be used ongoing.

 Tips for ensuring a good night’s sleep

Keep a regular sleep cycle

  • Set a regular bedtime – go to bed at the same time each night. Choose a time when you generally feel tired so you are ready for sleep and try not to break the routine.
  • Wake up at the same time each day, even at weekends. If you are getting enough sleep you should naturally wake up without an alarm clock.
  • Nap to make up for lost sleep during the day if you can, rather than disturb your normal sleep/wake cycle.
  • Fight ‘after dinner drowsiness’ otherwise you will find yourself waking through the night

Naturally regulate your sleep/wake cycle

  • Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that is controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is secreted in times of darkness and makes you feel sleepy. But many aspects of modern life can disrupt your body’s natural production of melatonin and with it your sleep/wake cycle.
  • Spending long days in an office away from natural light, for example can impact your daytime wakefulness and make your brain feel sleepy. The bright lights at night from appliances such as TV’s and computers can suppress the natural production of melatonin and make it a lot harder to sleep.

However this can be changed by:

  • Ensuring daytime full light exposure ie getting outside during daylight hours everyday
  • Having time before bedtime in naturally dimming light away from bright screens (such as the aforementioned TV’s, computers and mobile phones).
  • It is essential to sleep in quiet and darkness and if you wake during the night don’t put on bright lights, use a low wattage bulb.
  • Some people do not convert serotonin to melatonin effectively. The conversion can be supported by providing substrate and cofactors for melatonin synthesis eg 5-HTP, B6 and magnesium. Methylation is also involved in melatonin synthesis so adequate folate and B12 are also important.

Create a relaxing bedtime routine

  • If you make a consistent effort to relax and unwind before bed you will sleep easier and more deeply. A peaceful bedtime routine sends powerful signals to your brain that it is time to wind down and let go of the day’s stresses.
  • Keep noises down. Earplugs might also help.
  • Keep your room cool. Most people sleep best at around 18 degrees celcius with adequate ventilation.
  • Make sure that your bed is comfortable. If you often wake up with a sore back or neck you might need to change your mattress or pillow.

Eat healthily and get regular exercise

  • Try to make dinnertime early in the evening and at least 3 hours before bedtime. Fatty and spicy or rich foods are best to avoid in the evening. Raised insulin from late night eating can suppress melatonin.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed.
  • Cut down on caffeine – some people take 12 hours to metabolise caffeine.
  • Avoid drinking too many liquids in the evening as it will cause you to wake in the night.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking causes many sleep problems in numerous ways. Nicotine is a stimulant, plus smokers experience nicotine withdrawal during the night making it much harder to sleep.

Relevant Products:

Biofood Magnesium – a co-factor in the synthesis of serotonin from melatonin.

5-HTP Plus – 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin. Also containing B6 and magnesium that are cofactors for serotonin.

Cyto-Night – Montmorency cherry, a natural source of melatonin with glycine, magnesium and hops.

Vitamin B6 – An important cofactor for serotonin / melatonin synthesis


Magnesium – may amplify the effects of anti-hypertensive, anti-angina, anti-arrhythmic and anti-coagulant drugs.

5-HTP – may have an additive effect with anti-depressants increasing the risk of serotonin syndrome. If you are on anti-depressant medication consult a doctor before use.

Cyto-Night – ask your doctor before taking if you are currently taking any other medications to help with sleep.

A Cytoplan Education Event – Thursday 8th September, 10.00am – 5.00pm.

Cavendish Conference Centre, 22 Duchess Mews, London, W1G 9DT

Alzheimers's image

Professor Bredesen will be speaking at our Cytoplan Education Event on 8th September on the scientific basis and unprecedented clinical results of The Bredesen Protocol™.

Dr Rangan Chatterjee (well-known for his ‘prime time’ BBC series ‘Doctor in the House’)  will speak about his role as lead clinician for The Bredesen Protocol™ in the UK, heading a team of doctors, nutritional and lifestyle therapists and the pre-clinical research. 

To find out more, and to book your place, please click here.

If you have any questions regarding the health topics raised in this article then please do get in touch via phone (01684 310099) or e-mail (

Amanda Williams & The Cytoplan Editorial Team: Joseph Forsyth, Clare Daley and Simon Holdcroft

Last updated on 24th May 2017 by tarryn


17 thoughts on “Alzheimer’s disease, Sleep and Melatonin

  1. Just to say that your articles are brilliant and full of useful information,
    although I have to admit some of it is little above my rather limited
    understanding of all finer points.

    Many thanks, please, keep writing them

  2. Hello,
    Thanks for the interesting article, and for all the good work you do.

    In common with many other 70 year-olds I occasionally do have trouble sleeping so I was delighted to read about Cyto-night. That is until I read you had to take it in “a large glass of water” just before going to bed!

    Gave me a good laugh, that! I already get up in the night once or twice to go to the bathroom so if I started having large glasses of water before bed, I may aswell camp out in there for the night and have done with it!

    I realise it probably gets absorbed more quickly into the body like that, but it would be a real blessing if you could come up with an alternative.
    Looking forward with bleary eyes to your reply and a possible solution,

    1. Hello Janet,

      Many thanks for your comment. Yes that is a very good point that you make. The amount of water that we suggest is actually between 50 and 100ml, so perhaps not quite a large glass. Apologies for this, We will amend our website and other literature this to make it clearer.

      Best wishes,

  3. Thank you in advance for sending, via email, any follow-up comments to my previous post from Cyto-plan.

  4. Thank you for this article! My mum is currently being tested for dementia and found this article very interesting! She doesn’t sleep very well and wakes up quite a few times in the night!
    Question: re the Melotanin deficiency can a SAD lamp help too as well as the nutritional supplements?
    Thank you
    Angela Duffy

    1. Dear Angela,

      Thank you for your question. A SAD lamp in the winter months may be helpful as daylight suppresses daytime melatonin synthesis and this can help with night-time levels, ensuring a correct daily rhythm. In the summer getting outside as much as possible would have additional benefits including the production of vitamin D, which is low in a large percentage of the population.

      Best wishes, Clare

  5. Astonishingly, the Alzheimer’s Society, Cancer Research and the NHS all have blindspots to the impact of heavy metals poisioning. As far as I am aware, no research has been done to assess what percentage of people with Alzheimer’s/Parkinson’s/Dementia/Cancer also have problems heavy metals poisoning.

  6. Excellent article – gives me a lot more confidence that I would be able to support someone with early stages of cognitive decline!

  7. Melatonin is available in the US and Europe and can be ordered by email.
    Do you advocate taking a tablet to encourage regular sleep patterns?

  8. I have been taking Magnesium to help with cramp and this has been 90% successful. But I also take drugs from the doc for hypertension. Your article suggests the combination is not good, Advice please

    1. Hello Veronica,

      Many thanks for your comment on the blog. Magnesium can also have a blood pressure lowering effect and this is the reason for the caution with medications for blood pressure ie that the combination could result in blood pressure being too low. For people taking blood pressure medications, wanting to take magnesium, it needs to be added gradually alongside monitoring of blood pressure. We would also recommend that people discuss with their GP where there is a possibility of an interaction.

      If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

      All the best,

  9. I was a chronic insomniac from age 20 – 80
    I am now 81 and after a year of tests have just been diagnosed with motor neurone disease . I am now taking Cytonight which contains montmorency cherry. My sleep has dramatically improved now. I am getting two periods of sleep – 4 hrs plus an extra 2-3 hrs most nights.
    Partly this may be due to the overwhelming tiredness from the illness but also much better than taking artificial melatonin as I was doing before Cytonight.

  10. Hello

    I suffer from Fibromyalgia and one of the supplements my nutritionist has put me on is Cyto-Night as one of the symptoms is insomnia, my dad has recently been diagnosed with dementia and he is having trouble sleeping at at night also.
    Thank you for your article


  11. I am wondering where to find a practitioner to enable me to get the medications discussed in this blog? I would value any advice!!

    1. Hi Jean, I would recommend that as a first port of call you completed our online health questionnaire. That way we can gain more information in terms of your diet and lifestyle, as well as your health profile and one of our nutritional therapists will come back to you with some tailored recommendations.

We'd love your comments on this article
It's easy, just post your questions, comments or feedback below

Names will be displayed as entered. Your email address will not be published. Required *