With a loved one newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, you may notice and change in sleeping patterns. For example, it may become increasingly difficult for them to fall back asleep if they wake up in the middle of the night. New sleep problems are believed to result from changes caused by these brain diseases, but studies are being conducted to examine if poor sleep is the precursor to dementia, and not the other way around.
Researchers are now drawing more and more links to sleep patterns and the risk of dementia diagnosis. With what we know about a good night’s sleep, either from personal experience or from studies- memory, focus, and cognitive function thrive when we are properly rested. Sleep is a necessity of memory care, as our brains consolidate and retain memories overnight while we’re sleeping. If you ever find yourself struggling to pay attention, or just feeling lethargic, there’s a chance that your brain is craving sleep. Our internal functions require rest to properly care for our cognitive functions. For these reasons, doctors believe there is a link between understanding sleep and understanding dementia, Alzheimer’s, and senior memory care.
Insufficient sleep and sleeping longer than needed are currently believed to be linked to Alzheimer’s disease, but researchers are still trying to fully understand the exact relationship. Reports suggest that already exhibiting these sleep patterns leads to a greater risk of dementia and may reflect early onset symptoms. However, we must consider the controls in the studies from which the information is derived. For example, most studies are conducted on participants 65 and older, and only last less than a decade.
A newer study, however, examines the relationship between sleep patterns early in life to later dementia diagnoses. This study from the University College of London has been following participants starting at age 50 for over 3 decades. Their findings have shown that people in their 50s and 60s who get six hours of sleep or less were at a larger risk of being diagnosed with dementia later in life. People getting less rest each night were 30% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.
This data suggests that diminished time sleeping in midlife increases the likelihood of developing dementia, but ultimately, more research needs to be conducted to understand the full scope of the cause.
Another sleep disorder being closely studied for correlations with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is sleep apnea. This is a condition where one’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout a night’s sleep. The two most prominent symptoms of this condition are snoring and feeling unrested after a full night’s sleep. Studies are being conducted to see if there are links to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia since sleep apnea causes poor sleep quality for 1 in every 15 Americans.
A study from the The University of Queensland Brain Institute and School of Biomedical Sciences has been studying the effects on mice of inadequate oxygen supply during sleep. The study found that when the brain is deprived of oxygen while sleeping, the same brain degeneration occurred that is observed in dementia patients. During these studies, it was also found that proper use of a CPAP machine improved sleep quality and prevented brain degeneration caused by the sleep apnea.
What is known for certain is that good health is correlated to good sleep. If you are currently caring for a senior loved one, or you yourself are looking at practicing memory care, take the time and steps to see how you can get your best night’s sleep. If these are steps you already take and you or elderly family members are still suffering with tiredness and lack of focus, reach out to sleep or dementia specialists to find out what actions to take next.