New Study Shows Poor Sleep Habits are Linked to Dementia

Do you continually wake up throughout the night disrupting your sleep? Does your partner regularly inform you of your loud snoring habits that effectively wake them up, too? If so then perhaps now is the time to confront this issue for the sake of the health of your brain.

According to a new study published in the journal Neurology, individuals who do not receive enough deep sleep or who suffer from breathing problems are at a higher risk of dementia. Essentially, scientists are saying that good quality sleep is imperative to overall brain health.

Lead study author Rebecca Gelber of the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System in Honolulu explained that it has been previously understood that a lack of good sleep is actually connected to cognitive and memory problems as well as dementia, but the reason for this was never fully realized.

Gelber and her team of researchers used 167 Japanese-American men with the average age of 84, who participated in a number of sleep tests at home. They were followed until their deaths, which usually took place six years later. Upon their deaths, scientists performed autopsies on their brains to search for signs of damage.


What they found piqued their interest: the group of study participants with the lowest blood oxygen levels at night were four times likely to experience brain damage caused by microinfarcts, mini-strokes that oftentimes lead to dementia. In addition, the men who spent the least amount of time in deep sleep showed a greater loss of brain cells and an increase in atrophy.

The researchers’ conclusion is that lower levels of oxygen in the blood could be attributed to sleep apnea, a common disorder when sleepers have one or more pauses in breathing while they sleep. It is estimated that more than 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. The risk factors for sleep apnea consist of obesity, a large neck size, large tonsils, Gastroesophageal reflux and nasal obstruction.

“All this shows is a linkage, not cause-and-effect. What we can say is, people with sleep disturbances appear more likely to have brain changes associated with dementia. There is some relationship, but researchers don’t understand it yet,” said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, in an interview with CBS News.

“If your sleep is disturbed and you’re having daytime symptoms, you should see your doctor. One reason is that you may find out your cognitive problems are not related to dementia at all.”

Dr. Clare Walton, Research Manager at Alzheimer’s Society, recommends that seniors should maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly and avoid smoking. With that being said, Walton averred that those who do not receive a good night’s sleep should not be too concerned over the results of this study.

“Some elderly people have amyloid plaques in their brains but never go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease, so it is far too early to say whether the amount of sleep you regularly get is important in the development of dementia and those who have a bad night’s sleep should not worry,” Walton said in a statement.

Individuals with poor sleeping habits can often suffer from concentration, memory and thinking problems throughout their day. Health experts say then those who have these symptoms should visit their doctor and develop a plan to remedy this ubiquitous problem.