Healthy Aging Insights: The Link Between Sleep and Dementia

We’ve always known that a good night’s sleep is good for our physical and emotional health. Getting enough “zzzzz”s makes us feel refreshed, alert and ready for the day.  

“Recent research studies also suggest that there is a dangerous downside to not getting sufficient sleep,” says Susan Irrgang, RN, LNHA, Executive Director at Saunders House in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.

These studies report that there is a link between poor sleep habits and your susceptibility to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Therefore, if you are a mature adult and having a difficult time sleeping at night, it is important to take action now. See a professional about your sleep challenges and work to solve them before they turn into something more serious.”

How Sleep and Dementia are Linked

As noted in theWashington Post story, “Interrupted sleep may lead to Alzheimer’s, new studies show,” new research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® in London indicates that adequate sleep is not only important for feeling good – it might also protect us against dementia.

Specifically, three studies by researchers at Wheaton College in Illinois found significant connections between breathing disorders that interrupt sleep and the accumulation of biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers say that treating the sleep problems with dental appliances or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines that force air into airways to make breathing easier could help lower the risk of dementia or slow its progress.

Megan Hogan, one of the Wheaton College researchers, says that while a relationship between sleep apnea and dementia has been noted in the past, these are among the first longitudinal studies to look at the relationship between sleep disruption and the biomarkers commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Ms. Hogan adds, “During sleep, your brain has time to wash away all the toxins that have built up throughout the day. Continually interrupting sleep may give it less time to do that.” 

Sleep Tips from Experts That Can Reduce Your Risk of Dementia

Because past research has found that the brain clears up harmful deposits of amyloid plaque during sleep, a dementia-prevention strategy that promotes quality sleep is clearly best. The good news is thatthere are several things you can do that can improve the quality of your sleep and reduce the risks of poor sleep and the onset of dementia.

For example, the article,“Lack of Sleep May Cause Alzheimer’s” provides the following recommendations for those who often feel sleep-deprived:

  • If you cannot sleep eight continuous hours, then spread it out.
  • Sleep in four-hour periods of time.
  • Take naps. 

Also, the article “Waking up to sleep as a risk factor for dementia” references a comprehensive report from the Global Council on Brain Health and lists helpful sleep advice for those over age 50. For example:

  • Get physical exercise during the day and exposure to natural light
  • Avoid caffeine after lunch – it’s found in tea, cocoa and cola as well as coffee
  • Don’t eat or drink much before bed – alcohol in particular may make you sleep, but then ultimately wake up when its effects wear off. Also avoid smoking, especially before bedtime
  • If you must nap during the day, keep it to at most 30 minutes in the early afternoon

Also, try these additional tips at bedtime:

  • Have a regular routine with set times for going to bed and getting up
  • Don’t stay in bed if you’re not sleepy or have had enough sleep
  • Keep the bedroom quiet, dark and at a good temperature
  • Don’t have a TV, smartphone or tablet in the bedroom 

“To sleep perchance to dream.” A good night’s sleep can foster pleasant dreams, but even more importantly it can protect you from dementia and other examples of cognitive decline as you age. For more information on healthy aging, dementia and other senior care topics, we invite you to read our recurring blog articles and tips.

We’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

If you have comments or questions about our blog, we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences with us in our comments section. 

Discover Our Healthy Tradition of Care and Wellness

Located adjacent to Lankenau Medical Center, Saunders House – part of Main Line Senior Care Alliance – has a celebrated tradition of providing exceptional care and services to seniors and their families. It’s a tradition we’re proud to continue. 

Today, Saunders House offers a range of services – including short-term rehabilitation, traditional nursing care, restorative care, memory care, respite care and specialized care for individuals with visual impairments – all in a setting that is warm, welcoming and nurturing.

For more information on Saunders House, our Short-Term Rehabilitation program and other professional services, please call us today at 610.658.5100 or contact us online. 

Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Saunders House and Main Line Senior Care Alliance for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.


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