Alzheimer’s disease and dementia risk mostly depends on factors like genetics. But new research shows rest can be a good prevention strategy.
New research suggests getting sufficient sleep may help curb dementia risk later in life.
The bulk of the risk factors for dementia are utterly out of our control, like age and genetics. But growing scientific evidence says there are measures people can take to mitigate their risk of developing the condition, which impacts an estimated 50 million people around the world.
A large new study published this week in the journal Nature Communications points to one relatively straightforward prevention tactic: Get enough high-quality sleep when you’re in your 50s and 60s.
The study, which followed nearly 8,000 participants in the United Kingdom for 25 years, found that people who regularly slept for six hours or less in middle age had about a 30% higher risk of developing dementia than those who clocked seven or more hours per night.
How sleep may help decrease risk of dementia
The new study is by no means the first to draw a link between sleep quantity and quality and dementia, but it is one of the largest to do so, according to Stephanie Stahl, a sleep disorder specialist with Indiana University Health.
“We know that getting insufficient sleep or getting poor quality sleep increases the risk of dementia,” Stahl, who was not involved in the new research, told HuffPost. “This is a larger scale study, so it definitely adds value to the evidence.”
Researchers are still unraveling how exactly the sleep-and-dementia connection might come together, but they have several theories in mind.
“During sleep, our brain is allowed to clear toxins and that includes beta- amyloid,” Stahl said. Beta-amyloid is a brain protein that can clump together and is often (though not always) a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Also, our sleep is really important for us to consolidate our memories,” Stahl added. In addition, “sleep disruption leads to inflammation and that can lead to clogging of the arteries, and that includes those arteries in the brain.”
The small changes that will help you get more sleep
The researchers behind the new study point out that more investigation is needed before they (or any scientists) are able to recommend really specific and powerful “windows of opportunity” for intervention when it comes to sleep and dementia. So it’s not as though experts can say, “Sleep for X hours a night, for X number of years, and your risk will decrease by X amount.”
But sleep doctors like Stahl say there really is no downside to pursuing more high quality rest — even if further research were to show there is not a direct connection between lack of sleep and dementia.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults aged 18 to 60 get seven or more hours of sleep per night; adults age 61 to 64 should clock seven to nine hours; and those 65 and up should aim for seven or eight hours.
“Getting seven hours versus six hours of sleep may not sound like a big difference, but if you’re one hour short every day, by the end of the week you’re seven hours — or one full day — short.””
“As far as improving quality of sleep, there’s a whole host of things that can be done. Avoidance of alcohol is really important. Alcohol tends to cause sleep disruption and leads to reduced total sleep time,” Stahl said. “You also want to avoid caffeine for at least eight hours before bedtime.” She noted that both caffeine and alcohol can reduce the amount of restorative slow-wave sleep people have throughout the night.
Another relatively simple — though not necessarily easy — change is to avoid electronics at night. Phone and laptop screens emit blue light, which can mess with sleep. If you can’t ignore your phone completely before bed, try adjusting its light in the settings or using your phone to listen to meditations or sleep-inducing sounds.
You should also try to get regular exercise, Stahl said. Research shows that consistent exercise in the morning or afternoon can significantly improve sleep quality. Exercise can also reduce a person’s risk of developing dementia by about 30%.
As is often the case with preventing illness, healthy changes can impact the body and mind in many different but connected ways.
It’s never too late to get more rest
While the new study may be compelling to clinicians and researchers looking to help their patients prevent dementia, it may also be a source of some alarm to people in their 50s, 60s and beyond who may not have been able to prioritize sleep before.
But experts like Stahl emphasized that it is never too late to make changes, and that sleep is cumulative.
“At any point, working toward getting adequate sleep is one of the most important takeaways,” Stahl said.
Surveys suggest that less than half of Americans get the recommended amount of sleep every night.
“I always tell people that getting seven hours versus six hours of sleep may not sound like a big difference, but if you’re one hour short every day, by the end of the week you’re seven hours — or one full day — short,” Stahl said. “Over the course of the year, you’re now 52 days short of the sleep you should be getting.”
By Catherine Pearson 04/22/2021
Why Do We Have To Sleep? by It’s Okay To Be Smart
The Reason People Now Sleep Worse Than Ever
Why people spend less time asleep than they used to and have more trouble getting to sleep.
People are sleeping worse then ever, a new US survey has revealed.
Up to five million more North Americans could be experiencing sleep problems than they were five years ago.
People also spend less time asleep than they used to.
These are the results of a study that looked at how sleep health is changing in the US.
Professor Zlatan Krizan, study co-author, said:
“Indeed, how long we sleep is important, but how well we sleep and how we feel about our sleep is important in its own right.
Sleep health is a multidimensional phenomenon, so examining all the aspects of sleep is crucial for future research.”
The study surveyed almost 165,000 people between 2013 and 2017.
Across the five years of the study, there was an increase in 1.43 percent in the number of people reporting difficulties falling asleep and an increase of 2.7 percent in those with problems remaining asleep.
The survey cannot reveal the reason for the increase, but Dr Garrett Hisler, the study’s first author, thinks it is partly down to technology:
“We know from our previous research there is a correlation between smartphone use and insufficient sleep among teens.
If we’re on our phone before bed or we’re receiving alerts in the middle of the night that can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.”
As a result, many are now advocating a form of ‘digital detox‘, involving reduced exposure to devices, especially before bedtime.
Poor sleep can increase the risk of many mental and physical illness, such as depression, anxiety and cardiovascular disease.
Professor Krizan said:
“We know that how well people sleep is generally very reflective of people’s health and may be an indicator of other conditions.
If we want a full picture of the population’s health, it’s important to measure and track these changes in sleep trends over time.”
Sleep deprivation disrupts communication between brain cells, a previous study has shown.
These disruptions can lead to temporary lapses in memory and even hallucinations.
This helps to explain why sleep deprivation leaves people feeling so spaced out.
The study was carried out on patients who had electrodes implanted in their brains prior to surgery for epilepsy.
The results showed that as they became more sleepy, the communication between their brain cells slowed down.
This caused a decrease in their reactions to cognitive tests.
How to improve sleep
Having a regular sleep schedule, bedtime routine and prioritising sleep, all help people sleep better, scientists have found.
The advice is based on recommendations by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Stimulus control therapy can also be beneficial.
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD