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Getting under 6 hours of sleep a night midlife increases risk of dementia, study finds


Linda Hasco

You’re not doing yourself a favor by working long hours and depriving yourself of sleep. A new study indicates you may be setting yourself up for failure — brain failure, that is.

The new study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications found those with a “sleep duration of six hours or less at age 50 and 60,” showed a higher risk for dementia compared to those who slept seven hours a night. The study followed nearly 8,000 people for 25 years.

The study further found that between the ages of 50, 60 and 70, sustained short sleep duration was also associated with a “30% increased dementia risk,” apart from “sociodemographic, behavioural, cardiometabolic, and mental health factors.”

CNN cited Tara Spires-Jones, deputy director of the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences at The University of Edinburgh in Scotland, who noted in a statement the importance of sleep for normal brain function. Spires-Jones said it “is also thought to be important for clearing toxic proteins that build up in dementias from the brain.” Spires-Jones was not involved with the study.

Tom Dening, who heads the Centre for Dementia at the Institute of Mental Health at the University of Nottingham in the U.K., said in a statement, “evidence of sleep disturbance can occur a long time before the onset of other clinical evidence of dementia.”

Denning was not involved in the study, but added that the findings cannot establish “cause and effect,” and that it simply could be a very early sign of the impending dementia. He suggested that it’s also quite likely that poor sleep is detrimental to the brain, leaving it “vulnerable to neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.”

Other studies have examined the damage sleep deprivation may cause.

CNN noted a 2017 study that found the risk for developing dementia may be higher for people who get less REM, or dream-stage sleep, “the fifth stage of sleep, when the eyes move, the body heats up, breathing and pulse quicken and the mind dreams.”

Another study published in 2017 revealed that an abundance of beta amyloid plaques was produced by healthy middle-aged adults who had just one night of disturbed sleep. An accumulation of Beta amyloid, “a sticky protein compound that disrupts communication between brain cells,” will in time kill the cells, and is one of the indications of Alzheimer’s disease.

Additionally, the study reportedly found a week of disrupted sleep increased the amount of tau, “another protein responsible for the tangles associated with Alzheimer’s” and several other forms of dementia.

CNN cited yet another 2017 study where dementia markers in spinal fluid was compared against “self-reported” sleep problems. The findings indicated that subjects with sleep issues were “more likely to show evidence of tau pathology, brain cell damage and inflammation,” even after taking into account other factors like depression, body mass, cardiovascular disease and sleep medications.

The new study strengthens the evidence.

Elizabeth Coulthard, an associate professor in dementia neurology at the University of Bristol in the U.K., said in a statement that because the new study involved a large group of people over an extended period of time, “It strengthens the evidence that poor sleep in middle age could cause or worsen dementia in later life.

What’s the best way to keep our brains healthy as we age?

Sara Imarisio heads strategic initiatives at Alzheimer’s Research UK. She reportedly said in a statement that the best evidence suggests to keep our brains healthy as we age, we should reduce our risk by “not smoking, only drinking in moderation, staying mentally and physically active, eating a balanced diet, and keeping cholesterol and blood pressure levels in check.”


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