Most of the risk factors for dementia are completely beyond our control, such as age and genetics. But growing scientific evidence says there are measures people can take to reduce their risk of developing the condition, which affects an estimated 50 million people around the world.
A major new study published this week in the journal Nature Communications suggests one relatively simple prevention tactic: get enough, high-quality sleep if you’re in your 50s and 60s.
The study, which followed nearly 8,000 participants in the UK for 25 years, found that people who regularly slept six hours or less in middle age had about a 30% higher risk of developing dementia than those who did seven. or clocked more hours per night. .
How sleep can help reduce the risk of dementia
The new study is by no means the first to link sleep quantity to quality and dementia, but it is one of the largest to do so, according to Stephanie Stahl, a sleep disorder specialist at Indiana University Health.
“We know that insufficient sleep or poor quality sleep increases the risk of dementia,” Stahl, who was not involved in the new research, told HuffPost. “It’s a larger scale study, so it’s definitely adding value to the evidence.”
Researchers are still unraveling exactly how the link between sleep and dementia can come together, but they have several theories in mind.
“During sleep, our brains may clear up toxins, and that includes beta-amyloid,” Stahl said. Beta-amyloid is a brain protein that can contract and is often (though not always) a feature of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Our sleep is also very important in consolidating our memories,” Stahl added. In addition, “sleep disorder leads to inflammation and it can lead to blockage of the arteries, and it includes those arteries in the brain.”
The small changes that will help you sleep more
The researchers behind the new study point out that more research is needed before they (or any scientists) can really recommend specific and powerful “windows of opportunity” for intervention when it comes to sleep and dementia. So it is not as if experts can say, “Sleep X hours a night, for X number of years, and your risk will decrease by X.”
But sleep doctors like Stahl say there really is no downside to pursuing higher quality rest, even if further research shows that there is no direct link between lack of sleep and dementia.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults aged 18 to 60 sleep seven or more hours a night; adults aged 61 to 64 must clock seven to nine hours; and those 65 and older should aim for seven or eight hours.
“Getting seven hours versus six hours of sleep may not sound like a big difference, but if you are one hour short each day, you are seven hours short – or one full day – short at the end of the week.” “
‘What improves the quality of sleep, there are a number of things that can be done. Avoiding alcohol is really important. “Alcohol tends to cause sleep disturbance and leads to a reduced total sleep time,” Stahl said. “You also want to avoid caffeine at least eight hours before bedtime.” She noted that caffeine and alcohol can reduce the amount of recovery that slow wave sleep has during the night.
Another relatively simple – though not necessarily easy – change is to avoid electronics at night. Telephone and laptop screens emit blue light, which sleeps with sleep. If you can not completely ignore your phone before going to bed, then try adjusting the light in the settings, or use your phone to listen to meditations or sounds for sleep.
You should also try to exercise regularly, Stahl said. Research shows that steady exercise in the morning or afternoon can significantly improve sleep quality. Exercise can also reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30%.
As is usually the case with disease prevention, healthy changes can affect the body and mind in many different but linked ways.
It’s never too late to rest anymore
While the clinicians and researchers may be compelling to help clinics and researchers prevent their patients, it can also be a source of concern for people in their 50s, 60s and who have not been able to prioritize sleep before.
But experts like Stahl have stressed that it is never too late to make changes, and that sleep is cumulative.
“At any stage, the most important takeaways are getting enough sleep,” Stahl said.
Surveys indicate that less than half of Americans get the recommended amount of sleep each night.
‘I always tell people that it may not be a big difference to get seven hours versus six hours of sleep, but if you are one hour short every day, you are seven hours at the end of the week – or one full day – short, ”Stahl said. “Over the course of the year, you now have 52 days short of the sleep you would get.”