At one time or another, everybody has bouts of sleeplessness. House noises, screaming babies, caffeine, or a bed partner who snores, often make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Eventually, you learn to limit the amount of coffee you drink, the screaming babies grow up, and the snoring bed partner, well...still stores. Other causes of chronic sleeplessness are sleep apnea, acid reflux, jet lag, swing-shift employment, and ongoing stress that causes sleeplessness.
Discoveries made by Oregon Health and Science University researchers show that sleep deprivation increases the risk of dementia later in life and may quicken its progression for those who already have the disease.1 Their data show that insufficient sleep increases the production of beta-amyloid proteins that compose the plaques associated with various kinds of dementia. 1
Taking a different approach, University of California Berkeley Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab researchers have evidence demonstrating the importance of deep non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, in preventing memory loss. 2 The deep non-REM sleep phase, among other functions, appears to prevent the buildup of beta-amyloid proteins. Their work shows there is a correlation between the accumulation of beta-amyloid proteins, sleep disorders, and Alzheimer disease. 2
Also, insufficient sleep is a risk factor associated with other health conditions that include obesity, heart disease, and diabetes - all of which increase the likelihood of dementia later in life.
What to do??
First of all, remember that risk factors do not cause disease but increase the likelihood of having dementia sometime in the future. Second, and most importantly, modifying behaviors and habits associated with dementia, such as smoking and obesity, can reduce risk.
Sufficient sleep depends on the age of the individual. For adults, seven to 10 hours of sleep per night is considered healthy. 3 However, for adults older than 65-years of age, six to eight hours of sleep per night is both normal and healthy. 3
Many older people, believing less than 8 hours of sleep per night is abnormal, resort to using sleeping pills. Unfortunately, using medication to assure sleep both increases the risk for dementia and worsens dementia for those who have the disease.
People acquire habits and behaviors that unknowingly make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. The National Sleep Foundation offers the following tips to get a good night’s sleep. 3
⦁ Stick to a sleep schedule – even on the weekends.
⦁ Develop a relaxing routine to prepare your body for sleep.
⦁ Use your bed only for sleep and sex.
⦁ If you have trouble sleeping, avoid afternoon and early evening naps.
⦁ Exercise daily.
⦁ Make the room where you sleep comfortable and free from disturbing noise or other distractions.
⦁ Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.
⦁ Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening.
⦁ Wind down - an hour before bed choose a calming activity such as reading.
⦁ If you can't sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing or immensely boring until you feel sleepy.
1. How a lack of sleep can increase YOUR risk of dementia: Lack of rest prevents the brain clearing out toxins that trigger Alzheimer's', http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3387246/How-lack-sleep-increase-risk-dementia-Lack-rest-prevents-brain-clearing-toxins-trigger-Alzheimer-s.html (accessed May 17, 2016)
2. Lack of Sleep May Lead to Dementia: New Research Finds It Makes Brain Vulnerable, http://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/just-in/2015-06-02/lack-sleep-may-lead-dementia-new-research-finds-it-makes (accessed May 17, 2016)
3. Healthy Sleep Tips, https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-tools-tips/healthy-sleep-tips (accessed May 17, 2016)
Contributor: Janet Yagoda Shagam, PhD, is a freelance medical and science writer and the author of “An Unintended Journey: A Caregiver's Guide to Dementia.” Available through Amazon.
The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse or guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of content within blog posts provided to us with permission, or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor. www.DementiaSociety.org