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The Connection Between Sleep Habits and Dementia

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Everyone needs a little extra sleep now and then, but there are times when “sleeping in” can be a sign of illness. If you, or an elderly loved one, are getting more sack time these days, more than nine hours per night, you may be at risk for developing dementia, according to a recent analysis of FHS (Framingham Heart Study) data. In fact, your risk may double—and brain volume may also decrease.
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Dementia is on the Rise

Dementia is on our minds these days, and often discussed in the media, because its incidence is rising. In the next seven years, the number of seniors with dementia is predicted to top 7 million. This FHS sleep-time finding is yet another bit of knowledge to factor into our efforts to make sense of, and fight, the diseases of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Will Sleeping Less Ward Off Dementia? Don’t Lose Sleep Over It

Does this excessive nightly sleep research finding indicate a symptom or risk factor of dementia? In the face of this new information, should we then limit our nightly rest to ward off dementia? That is not necessary, say the experts at BUSM (Boston University School of Medicine) who analyzed Framingham data to glean this sleep information, published last month in the journal Neurology. It appears that intentionally shortening your sleep time won’t protect against memory-related illnesses.

Focus on Quality Sleep, Which Benefits Everyone

Last year we reported on how getting too little, poor quality, sleep could increase dementia risk. That information about poor sleep quality is completely in line with this finding about too much sleep, so don’t let it confuse you. Good quality sleep and the proper amount of sleep help keep all of us healthy and could help ward off dementia and many other health problems.

Specifically, our earlier blog post discussed the 2013 JAMA study finding that showed poor quality sleep is associated with excessive beta-amyloid protein in the brain. Beta-amyloid is the toxic protein which causes brain plaque found in Alzheimer’s patients. The study did not reveal which condition causes the other: does lack of quality sleep cause extra plaque-forming proteins or does extra protein release cause poorer sleep? So we don’t yet know if poor sleep quality creates a risk of early Alzheimer’s or if poor sleep is caused by Alzheimer’s.

Poor quality sleep, however, can be a reason that a person would stay in bed longer. This means it is important to determine if a senior is sleeping longer or just staying in bed longer in an effort to sleep. If you notice either of these behaviors, consult your physician for guidance, but don’t try to sleep less, unless your physician advises it.

How Does the New Sleep Length Data Affect Me?

Use this information about longer sleep habits as a simple reminder to screen for early signs of dementia. Longer sleep could be an early warning sign—and if a longer-sleep habit leads you to an earlier discovery of dementia, that’s a good thing. Early diagnosis of dementia enables earlier treatment to perhaps slow symptom progression of the disease. Early dementia screening also allows those affected, and their families, to make plans for future care, safety and long term health for seniors who may be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Get Help Planning for Dementia Care

At Primrose memory care facility in Santa Rosa, CA, we specialize in caring for individuals with dementia. We provide dedicated, expert residential care and an adult day club. Please contact us for additional information or to schedule a tour!

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