Sleep and dementia: What's the connection?

Sunrise Senior Living  |  April 17, 2017

Getting a sufficient amount of rest can help ensure your health and well-being.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults aged 65 and older should be sleeping 7 to 8 hours every night, whereas younger adults - aged 26 to 64 - should strive for 7 to 9. Any longer than that, however, may be detrimental to overall health. A study led by researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine found that adults who slept longer than 9 hours every night, consistently, were more likely to develop all-cause dementia and clinical Alzheimer's disease.

Another study, published in the Nature Neuroscience journal, found that too little sleep is also linked to dementia. What exactly about sleep makes it such a major contributing factor to this disease? Let's find out. 

The research
The first article, which analyzed the Framingham Heart Study, evaluated 234 cases of all-cause dementia in older adults with a mean age of 72 years old over a 10-year period. After analyzing the participants who recorded sleeping long durations throughout the night - over nine hours at a time - the researchers found that these participants had an increased risk of incident dementia as well as smaller brain volumes.

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Sleeping longer than 9 hours every night could increase your risk of developing dementia.Sleeping longer than 9 hours every night could increase your risk of developing dementia.

According to Boston University School of Medicine, the researchers believe that the results suggest that sleeping too much didn't necessarily cause the dementia, rather it was a symptom of the disease.

The second study suggests that too much sleep isn't the only problem. Researchers found that those who are not reaching the deep cycle of sleep may develop dementia due to a buildup of beta amyloid. The accumulation of this protein is caused because it has easier access to the brain during non-rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Buildup of this protein has a reputation for being linked to Alzheimer's.

How can you keep yourself from oversleeping?
Researchers who found the correlation between resting too much and developing dementia suggest older adults follow a strict sleeping schedule every night. Co-corresponding author Mathew Pase, Ph.D., a fellow in the department of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, said this information can be an effective tool for doctors who are treating someone who may be showing signs of dementia. It can also be used to prevent patients from developing the disease in the first place.

"Older adults should follow a strict sleeping schedule every night."

"Self-reported sleep duration may be a useful clinical tool to help predict persons at risk of progressing to clinical dementia within 10 years," he said. "Persons reporting long sleep time may warrant assessment and monitoring for problems with thinking and memory."

If you sleep longer than nine hours every night and wake up without feeling well-rested, it's worth scheduling an appointment with the doctor for a screening. He or she may be able to determine the problem and possibly detect early warning signs of cognitive impairment or early onset dementia.

How can you ensure a good night's sleep?
On the other hand, if you're not getting enough sleep at night, it's just as critical to be proactive about your mental health. Here are a few tips provided by Helpguide to reduce your chance of oversleeping:

  • Talk to your doctor - He or she may be able to determine if there's a health condition keeping you up at night.
  • Follow a regular sleep schedule - Go to bed at night and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Consider your diet - Sugary foods, alcohol and caffeine can keep you up at night. Eating a heavy meal too soon before bed can also impact your sleep. Be conscious of what you're consuming and avoid eating dinner within three hours of your bedtime.
  • Create a positive sleep environment - Your bedroom should be a sleeping sanctuary. Remove distractions and make sure it's dark, quiet and cool when it's time for rest.

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