We have no control at all of most of the risk factors for dementia, such as age and genetics. But growing scientific evidence says there are steps people can take to reduce their risk of developing the condition, which affects an estimated 50 million people around the world.
A large new study published this week in the journal Nature Communications points to a relatively simple prevention tactic: Get plenty of quality sleep 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 for six hours or less in middle age had a 30% higher risk of developing dementia than those who clocked for seven or more hours a night. .
How sleep can help reduce the risk of dementia
The new study is by no means the first to link sleep quantity and quality to 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 or poor-quality sleep increases the risk of dementia,” Stahl, who was not involved in the new research, told HuffPost. “This is a larger scale study, so it certainly adds value to the evidence.”
Researchers are still unraveling how exactly the link between sleep and dementia might come together, but they have several theories in mind.
“During sleep, our brains are allowed to remove toxins, including beta-amyloid,” said Stahl. Beta amyloid is a brain protein that can clump together and is often (but not always) a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
“In addition, our sleep is very important for us to consolidate our memories,” added Stahl. In addition, “sleep disruption leads to inflammation that can lead to clogging of the arteries, and that includes those arteries in the brain.”
The little changes that will help you get more sleep
The researchers behind the new study point out that more research is needed before they (or any scientists for that matter) can recommend really specific and powerful “windows of opportunity” for intervention when it comes to sleep and dementia. So it’s not like experts can say, “Sleep X hours a night for X number of years, and your risk will decrease X times.”
But sleep doctors like Stahl say there’s really no downside to the pursuit of more quality rest – even if further research showed there isn’t a direct link between sleep deprivation and dementia.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults ages 18 to 60 get seven or more hours of sleep per night; adults aged 61 to 64 must clock seven to nine hours; and those 65 and older should aim for seven or eight hours.
“Sleep seven hours versus sleep six may not sound like a big difference, but if you run out of one hour each day, you’re seven hours — or a whole day — short by the end of the week.” “
“When it comes to improving sleep quality, there are a lot of things that can be done. Avoiding alcohol is very important. Alcohol tends to cause sleep disturbance and shortens overall sleep time, ”said Stahl. “You also want to avoid caffeine for at least eight hours before bed.” She noted that both caffeine and alcohol can reduce the amount of restorative slow-wave sleep people have during the night.
Another relatively simple – though not necessarily easy – change is to avoid electronics at night. Phone and laptop screens emit blue light, which can interfere with sleep. If you can’t completely ignore your phone before going to bed, try adjusting the light in the settings or use your phone to listen to meditations or sleep inducing sounds.
You should also try to get regular exercise, Stahl said. Research shows that consistent exercise in the morning or afternoon can significantly improve sleep quality. Exercise can also reduce a person’s risk of developing dementia by about 30%.
As is often the case with disease prevention, healthy changes can affect the mind and body in many different but interrelated ways.
It’s never too late to get some rest
While the new study may appeal to clinicians and researchers who want to help their patients prevent dementia, it could also be a source of alarm for people in their 50s, 60s and older who may not have previously been able to prioritize indicate sleep.
But experts like Stahl stressed that it’s never too late to make changes, and that sleep is cumulative.
“Anytime, it’s one of the most important things to get enough sleep,” said Stahl.
Surveys show that less than half of Americans get the recommended amount of sleep every night.
“I always tell people that getting seven hours or six hours of sleep may not seem like that big of a difference, but if you run out of an hour each day, you’re seven hours – or a full day – short by the end of the week. , “said Stahl.” Over the course of the year, you now have 52 days less sleep than you should be getting. “