How Can Sleep Affect Dementia or Alzheimer’s? [And How Can You Prevent It]

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How Can Sleep Affect Dementia or Alzheimer’s?

We all know that getting enough sleep is important for our overall health. But did you know that sleep can also affect dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?

According to a recent neurology study, people who slept less than six hours a night were more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease than those who slept seven to eight hours a night.

The study also found that people with insomnia or sleep apnea were at an increased risk for developing these diseases.

So, how can you prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?

There are a few things you can do:

What are the risk factors for dementia?

1. Poor Sleep Habits

Poor sleep habits can increase the risk of developing dementia. During sleep, the brain gets rid of unnecessary things and helps in learning and storing memories. When a person doesn’t get enough sleep, plaque-like substances build up in their brain. In midlife, inadequate sleep can raise the risk of developing dementia in later life.

Factors which can offset a person’s circadian rhythm leading to poor sleep may include

  • shift work,
  • caretaking responsibilities,
  • anxiety,
  • pressing deadlines can cause poor sleep habits.
  • Little exposure to sunlight during the day,
  • inactivity during the day,
  • mental or physical exhaustion
  • stress at night,
  • chronic pain,
  • a poor sleep environment,
  • diet

It is essential to give yourself six to eight hours of sleep each night to reduce the risk of dementia.

2. Aging

Research from National Institute on Aging has documented that as we age, there are a number of sleep changes that occur in healthy aging adults. These changes include

  • sleeping fewer hours per night,
  • spending less time in slow-wave and REM sleep,
  • and experiencing fragmented sleep.

These changes parallel some of the sleep challenges seen in people with dementia, but the sleep pattern changes in dementia patients tend to be more dramatic and disruptive.

The risk of developing dementia increases as we age due to the changes that occur in the brain, such as the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques and tau protein tangles, which can cause damage to brain cells and lead to cognitive decline.

3. Poor Diet

A healthy diet is important for overall health, including brain health. Certain foods can increase the risk of developing dementia, such as those high in saturated fats and sugar. A poor diet can lead to inflammation in the brain, which can contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Inflammation is the brain’s response to injury or infection, but chronic inflammation can damage brain cells and increase the risk of cognitive decline. On the other hand, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats can reduce inflammation and promote brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and nuts have been shown to improve brain function and reduce the risk of dementia. Eating a balanced diet and avoiding processed foods can help protect the brain and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

4. Lack of Exercise

Studies have shown that lack of exercise can be a risk factor for dementia. Physical activity helps to increase blood flow to the brain, which can help to improve cognitive function.

Exercise can help to reduce the risk of conditions that contribute to dementia, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Incorporating physical activity or deep pressure activities into daily routines can be easy and fun. Taking a daily walk, dancing, swimming, doing yoga nidra or participating in a group exercise class are all great ways to stay active. It’s important to find an activity that you enjoy and that fits into your schedule.

Even small changes, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking farther away from your destination, can make a big difference. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. Remember, every little bit counts!

What are the benefits of good sleep for people with dementia?

Type of DementiaBenefits of Sleep
Alzheimer’s diseaseImproves cognitive function and memory
Reduces risk of falls and accidents
Improves mood and behavior
Reduces risk of developing other health problems
Helps the brain clear beta-amyloid plaques
Lewy body dementiaImproves cognitive function and memory
Reduces risk of hallucinations and delusions
Improves mood and behavior
Reduces risk of falls and accidents
Vascular dementiaImproves cognitive function and memory
Reduces risk of depression and anxiety
Reduces risk of developing other health problems
Helps the brain recover from damage due to strokes
Frontotemporal dementiaImproves cognitive function and memory
Reduces risk of depression and anxiety
Improves mood and behavior
Reduces risk of falls and accidents
benefits of sleep for individuals with various types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease

It is important to note that the benefits of sleep may vary depending on individual circumstances and the stage of the disease.

1. Good sleep can improve memory and mood

Good sleep is essential for memory and mood, especially for those with dementia. Research has shown that individuals with dementia frequently have poor, fragmented sleep. However, getting adequate sleep can reduce the risk of developing dementia. In fact, a study found that better sleep not only reduced the likelihood of developing clinical Alzheimer’s disease, but it also reduced the development of tangle pathology in the brain.

Sleep is also crucial for learning and storing memories. When we sleep, our brain gets rid of things we don’t need, and when we don’t get enough sleep, plaque-like substances build up.

To achieve good sleep, experts recommend

  • falling asleep realtively fast – within 30 minutes of going to bed,
  • waking no more than once in the night,
  • spending no more than 20 minutes awake during the night,
  • and spending at least 85% of your time in bed asleep.
  • Consulting a sleep medicine physician can also be helpful for improving sleep quality.

2. Better concentration and attention

Quality sleep plays a crucial role in improving concentration and attention in individuals with dementia. According to a study, better sleep quality was associated with improved evening alertness and fewer everyday memory errors in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) after nights with high sleep continuity.

Higher values on latency to sleep onset were associated with better performance on the Serial 7s Subtraction Test in AD.

3. Reduced risk of nighttime agitation and sleep disturbances

People with Alzheimer’s disease commonly experience sleep disturbances and nighttime agitation, which can worsen their symptoms and affect their daytime functioning. Research suggests that interventions targeting sleep continuity can improve daytime functioning in people with AD. Adequate sleep can also reduce the risk of developing dementia, as better sleep has been found to reduce the likelihood of developing clinical Alzheimer’s disease and tangle pathology in the brain.

Home EEG sleep assessment has shown that mild-moderate Alzheimer’s disease is associated with reduced slow-wave sleep. Daily assessments of cognition, mood, and behavior in parallel with self-reported and objective assessments of sleep have demonstrated that night-to-night variation in sleep associates with the substantial intraindividual day-to-day variation in cognitive, mood, and behavioral measures.

Therefore, improving sleep quality and duration through pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions can potentially reduce the risk of nighttime agitation and sleep disturbances in people with dementia.

4. Reduced risk of falls and injuries

For older people with dementia, sleep-inducing medications can increase the risk of falls and confusion. Therefore, sedating sleep medications are generally not recommended for this group. Instead, improving sleep quality through natural methods can help reduce the risk of falls and injuries.

5. Improved appetite and nutrition

Getting good sleep is important for everyone, but it can be especially beneficial for people with dementia. Adequate rest can help improve their appetite, making it easier for them to get the nutrition they need. Poor sleep can lead to a loss of appetite, which can be detrimental to their overall health.

New study on sleep and Alzheimer’s disease

  • 💊 A new study shows that using sleeping pills like suvorexant could reduce the build-up of toxic clumps of proteins in fluid that washes the brain clean every night.
  • 💤 Sleep disturbances can be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease, and researchers believe that promoting sleep could be one avenue to stave off the disease.
  • 🌙 Sleeping pills may help some people get some shut-eye, but using them as a preventative treatment to ward off Alzheimer’s disease is still a hazy prospect that hangs on a now-shaky hypothesis of Alzheimer’s pathology.
  • 🧪 The study spanned just two nights and involved 38 middle-aged participants who showed no signs of cognitive impairment and had no sleep issues.
  • 🧠 Sleep disturbances can be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease that precedes other symptoms, such as memory loss and cognitive decline.

The study suggests that inadequate sleep duration could increase dementia risk and emphasizes the importance of good sleep habits. Changes in sleep patterns are common in people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. They may wake up often during the night and find it hard to get back to sleep.

  • 💊 Suvorexant is already approved by the US FDA for insomnia treatment.
  • 🧪 In a randomized controlled trial, 38 cognitively unimpaired participants aged 45 to 65 years were randomized to receive either placebo, suvorexant 10 mg, or suvorexant 20 mg.
  • 🧠 Six milliliters of cerebrospinal fluid were collected
  • 🔬 All samples were processed and measured for multiple forms of amyloid-β, tau, and phospho-tau via immunoprecipitation and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry.
  • 📉 Suvorexant decreased amyloid-β ~10% to 20% compared to placebo starting 5 hours after drug administration.
  • 📋 Participants were randomized into three groups: placebo, suvorexant 10mg, and suvorexant 20mg.
  • 📊 There were no significant group differences in age, sex, race, ApoE4 status, BMI, ISI, MMSE, screening actigraphic sleep efficiency, and screening actigraphic total sleep time.

These sleep problems are thought to result from brain changes caused by the disease that affect the sleep-wake cycle. The study explored the links between sleep and dementia and suggests that sleep patterns earlier in life may contribute to later dementia risk. However, more research is needed to better understand sleep and dementia risk.

Can Sleep Disorders Increase the Risk of Dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Research suggests a significant relationship between sleep disorders and mental health, specifically dementia and Alzheimer’s. Insufficient sleep, as well as disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia, can increase the risk of developing these cognitive conditions. Adequate sleep habits are crucial in maintaining brain health and preventing the onset of age-related mental deterioration.

How to improve sleep in people with dementia?

Caring for a loved one with dementia can be challenging, especially when it comes to promoting good sleep. However, making a few adjustments to their daily routine and sleep environment can help improve their mood, health, and quality of life. Some tips for improving sleep in people with dementia include

  • treating any medical conditions that may be interfering with their sleep,
  • creating a soothing sleep environment,
  • avoiding stimulants,
  • encouraging physical and mental activity during the day,
  • and establishing a consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine.
  • incorporating light therapy or music therapy into their sleep routine may also be beneficial. Light therapy can help regulate the sleep cycle, while music therapy can promote relaxation and decrease anxiety.
  • It’s important to avoid physical restraints and instead use nightlights and bed sensors to prevent nighttime wandering.

By implementing these strategies, caregivers can help their loved ones with dementia get better sleep, which may improve their overall well-being.

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Limit naps with with Alzheimer’s disease

For individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, it may be beneficial to limit daytime napping as much as possible. Alzheimer’s disease can disrupt the natural sleep-wake cycle, leading to increased daytime sleepiness and napping. However, excessive napping during the day can lead to circadian rhythm problems or other sleep disturbances at night, making it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.


How does sleep affect dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Sleep plays a crucial role in the development and progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease according to Alzheimer Society. Research suggests that disrupted sleep may contribute to the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s.

Treatment for sleep disturbances in individuals with dementia may involve medication, light therapy, or the use of natural sleep aids like weighted blankets or melatonin. Maintaining healthy sleep habits may help reduce the risk of developing dementia or slow its progression in those already diagnosed. Therefore, it is important to prioritize sleep hygiene and seek medical attention for any sleep-related concerns.

What is beta-amyloid and how does it relate to dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Beta-amyloid is a protein found in the brain that can accumulate and form plaques in Alzheimer’s disease. It is created during normal brain cell activity, but its function is not fully understood. Studies suggest that poor sleep may contribute to abnormal levels of beta-amyloid protein in the brain, which in turn leads to the amyloid plaques found in the Alzheimer’s brain.

Sleep is believed to help limit the production of beta-amyloid and support the brain’s drainage system that clears it. Some people suggest that sleeping inclined is also improves the brain’s drainage system.

What is sundowning and how does it affect dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Sundowning is a phenomenon where individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s experience increased agitation, confusion, anxiety, and irritability in the evening as the sun goes down. Sundowning may be caused by damage to the same part of the brain that controls the sleep-wake cycle: the suprachiasmatic nucleus. People with dementia may also talk, yell, or cry out at night if they cannot sleep, and some may have a tendency to wander away from their homes, which can be especially dangerous at night.

Sleep disturbance may affect up to 25% of people with mild to moderate dementia and 50% of people with severe dementia. Factors that might contribute to sleep disturbances and sundowning include changes in the body clock, disorientation, and reduced lighting. Coping with sundowning can be a significant source of stress for caregivers.

What is the best way to prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s?

While genetics plays a role in the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, adopting a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of developing these conditions. One important aspect of a healthy lifestyle is getting enough quality sleep. Adequate sleep has been shown to reduce the likelihood of developing clinical Alzheimer’s disease and tangle pathology in the brain.

Other lifestyle changes that can reduce the risk of developing dementia include adopting a healthy diet, exercising regularly, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, and establishing regular sleep and eating schedules. Exposure to bright light in the morning may also help improve sleep quality. While some drug treatments for poor sleep have been linked to an increased risk of dementia, more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of lifestyle changes in reducing the risk of developing these conditions.

What are the effects of sleep deprivation on dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Sleep and brain function are intricately linked, with sleep playing a critical role in our cognitive functioning and memory formation. Observational studies have shown that sleep issues are associated with cognitive decline and dementia. Sleep deprivation has been found to increase the levels of amyloid-beta in the brain, a protein associated with the formation of amyloid plaques, one of the first Alzheimer’s disease symptoms in the brain. Alzheimer’s patients with amyloid plaques have also been shown to have worse sleep quality than those without.

Inadequate sleep duration could increase dementia risk, with people who slept six hours or less per night in their 50s and 60s being more likely to develop dementia later in life.

What is the connection between dementia or Alzheimer’s and circadian rhythm?

Circadian rhythm is a crucial process that regulates our sleep-wake cycle through physical and psychological processes responding to environmental cues. People with dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, experience disruptions in their circadian rhythm that prevent them from getting quality sleep on a regular schedule. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which serves as our internal clock, is damaged in individuals with Alzheimer’s, leading to decreased cellular activity in this part of the brain. As a result, patients often sleep excessively during the day and sleep much less at night, which can worsen as dementia progresses. Changes in a person’s circadian rhythm often occur in people with Alzheimer’s and can be detected in the early stages of the disease.

REM sleep behavior disorder

REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is a sleep disorder that is sometimes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. RBD is characterized by the loss of muscle atonia during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which can cause individuals to act out their dreams physically, such as talking, yelling, or even thrashing around in bed.

Study sleep data have shown that individuals with RBD are at an increased risk of developing neurodegeneration such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple system atrophy, and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, up to 80% of individuals with RBD eventually develop a neurodegenerative disorder and get a dementia diagnosis.

How can sleep apnea or sleep disturbances affect dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Sleep apnea and sleep disturbances have been shown to negatively impact dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Poor sleep quality and duration have been associated with higher levels of beta-amyloid protein, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start during sleep, is more common in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

More studies are currently being conducted to examine the value of a good night’s sleep in delaying or preventing Alzheimer’s disease.


By lezt

Lez Taylor, Founder and CEO of Corala Blanket. She tried every sleep system and trick to conquer her insomnia for good.