You can't think straight... your concentration is shot... and you fumble your way through the day's details.

When you haven't gotten your 40 winks the night before, it can feel like your brain is asleep on the job!

And if you toss and turn night after night -- like HALF of all adults over 60 do -- that "brain drain" could set you up for something even more serious.

We've known for a while that not getting enough time in a deep-sleep phase known as REM (a.k.a. “rapid eye movement”) increases your chances of developing dementia.

And now, a new study suggests why: Sleep deprivation can boost a protein in your brain that's linked to Alzheimer's.

As I’ve shared with you before, it's called "beta-amyloid" – and it turns out that all it takes is ONE night of poor sleep for levels of this protein to rise!

In the study, National Institutes of Health researchers scanned the brains of healthy folks both after a night of restful sleep AND after they'd been awake for about 30 hours.

Levels of beta-amyloid in the participants' brains were 5 percent HIGHER after the sleepless night than they were after the restful night.

Now, that may not sound like much of an increase… but if you've got chronic insomnia, all that extra beta-amyloid could really add up over time.

You see, beta-amyloid is actually a metabolic waste product -- and the theory is that deep sleep allows your brain to clear it out before it has a chance to settle in.

That means that when you don't sleep soundly, it's like you've missed your daily "trash pickup"... allowing this metabolic "garbage" to pile up!

And we know that when excess beta-amyloid collects in your gray matter, it can form the "plaques" and "tangles" we see in the brains of people with full-blown Alzheimer's.

What's more, the study showed that the extra beta-amyloid was found mostly in the thalamus and the hippocampus -- two brain areas that are especially vulnerable to damage in the early stages of Alzheimer's.

Now, here’s the kicker: While not sleeping enough can increase beta-amyloid, having excess beta-amyloid in your brain makes sleep troubles more likely.

So, you want to nip your insomnia in the bud... BEFORE it sets off this vicious cycle.

Just don't pop a sleeping pill, which can only increase your risk of Alzheimer's.

Instead, try some natural ways to get more shut-eye:

• Create good habits: Getting regular exercise, avoiding caffeine too late in the day, and limiting your exposure to TV and electronics close to bedtime can help coax your body into slumber.

• Reset your "clock": Since your levels of melatonin -- the hormone that regulates your sleep/wake cycle -- decline with age, try supplementing with melatonin or drinking melatonin-rich tart cherry juice.

• Turn to herbs: Studies have shown that ashwagandha, valerian root, kava extract, and even chamomile tea can induce all sleep without side effects.

And I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t mention that getting some exercise is a great way to relieve stress (which can help you sleep), speed up the process of “taking out the trash” both in your brain and the rest of your body, and make sure that you’re plumb tuckered out by the time you hit the hay!