The 'sleep hormone' can sharpen your brain

Everyone feels scattered from time to time -- and as we age, a few of those little "senior moments" are par for the course.

But if your brain feels like it's "sleeping on the job" more and more often, it could be a sign of something more serious.

According to a new study, though, there's a natural way to perk up your mind -- because a hormone that helps regulate your sleep can also improve cognitive function in those with Alzheimer's.

I'm talking about melatonin, the hormone your body produces to help you fall asleep.

In the study out of China, researchers gave melatonin to mice with Alzheimer's-like brain changes. By the end of the study, it turned out that this so-called "sleep hormone" significantly improved the mice's cognitive function -- and the results gave clues as to how and why it helped turn things around.

Now, we don't know exactly what causes Alzheimer's, but we do know that it's associated with the appearance of "tangles" and "plaques"... damage to mitochondria... and the unnatural, massive death of nerve cells in your gray matter.

In the study, the melatonin appeared to shield the mice's mitochondria from damage AND decreased proteins involved in both cell death and the formation of tangles and plaques. And, of course, the LESS damage to your brain there is... the BETTER your cognitive function.

But that's not all that melatonin can do for Alzheimer's -- because previous studies have shown that supplementing with melatonin can also lessen the symptoms of agitation and confusion that tend to come on in the evening hours (a.k.a. "sundowning").

And, of course, since melatonin is known as the "sleep hormone," it can also help you get more shuteye -- which is important not only for those with Alzheimer's but for ANYONE who wants to slash their risk of developing it.

That's because past studies have shown that not getting enough of a sleep phase called "REM sleep" boosts your chances of dementia.

And you need to be asleep for 90 minutes straight before REM sets in!

Since your levels of melatonin decline with age -- and decline even further with Alzheimer's disease -- boost your supply by eating Paleo-friendly foods like pineapples, bananas, oranges, sweet corn, and tomatoes.

You can also try drinking tart cherry juice, which contains melatonin and can help you get a better night's rest. It's also been shown in studies to improve memory and cognition in older adults with mild-to-moderate dementia.

But to be on the safe side, take a melatonin supplement. They're available at most drug stores for just pennies a day.