Study Links Lack of Sleep To Dementia, Alzheimers In Later Years

Study Links Lack of Sleep To Dementia, Alzheimers In Later Years

If you weren't getting enough sleep at night, now is a good time to remedy that.

Lack of sleep or waking up several times at night instead of sleeping soundly can cause Alzheimer’s, a new Canadian study says. The researchers also found that sleep may help immune cells stay “young.”

In the study published in the journal Science Advances, the researchers found that severe loss and lack of sleep prematurely ages the brain’s immune cells. Also, it may lead to cognitive problems such as dementia later in life.

“People who woke up a lot and had fragmented sleep led to poor cognitive performance,” said the principal investigator. The University of Toronto associate neurology professor, Dr. Andrew Lim spoke with CTVNews in a phone interview.

Study Links Lack of Sleep To Dementia, Alzheimers In Later Years

And the decline in cognitive function is a “key manifestation of dementia.” The study only showed that bad sleep or lack of sleep is linked to cognitive function decline. But it doesn't tell us whether one causes the other.

Details Of This Study On Severe Lack Of Sleep Or Bad Sleep

lack of sleep

It’s long been established that sleep disruption is at least associated with cognitive decline and dementia in older adults, but the reason was unclear. These latest findings shed some light on that.

In the latest study, poorer sleep not only leads to premature aging; but abnormal activation of the brain’s immune cells (microglia). And these are normally only turned on to fight off pathogens and cellular debris.

According to Dr. Lim and the study’s lead author; their research is the first to examine the impact of poor sleep on the brain’s immune system. The lead author of the study is third-year University of Toronto medical student Kirusanthy Kaneshwaran.

Poor Sleep Speeds Up The Aging of Brain Cells

Study Links Lack of Sleep To Dementia, Alzheimers In Later Years

The study found that bad sleep speeds up the aging of brain cells; so this could lead to cognitive problems of thinking and memory.

“Chronically losing sleep may cause inflammation of the brain and cause it to age faster,” Kaneshwaran said in a university press release. “This was detected through actual, identifiable changes in the inflammatory cells of the brain.”

In the study, participants with better sleep had “younger” and less activated immune cells. And this led to protection “against the negative effects of Alzheimer’s disease pathology on cognition,” Lim said.

He cautioned that scientists don’t know that improving sleep will reverse these detrimental effects.

“But I think it adds one more reason to try and sleep better,” Lim said.

“What (for) many people might be annoyances -- you know, waking up multiple times a night -- can sometimes be a sign of something that needs to be dealt with,” he said.

The link between poor sleep or lack of sleep and Alzheimer’s is particularly worrisome. This is because studies have found that 30 to 40 percent of older adults have reported insomnia; but very few ever get treatment, much less diagnosis.

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, one of the leading causes of death around the world. Around the world, every three seconds, someone develops dementia. By 2017, those living with dementia was close to 50 million. And by 2050, experts expect that number to rise to over 130 million, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

How To Improve Your Sleeping Pattern


Sleep hygiene may sound unimaginative, but it just may be the best way to get the sleep you need in this 24/7 age. Here are some simple tips for making the sleep of your dreams a nightly reality.

Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, Nicotine, and Other Chemicals that Interfere with Sleep

Caffeinated products decrease your quality of sleep. As any coffee lover knows, caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake. So avoid caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, and some pain relievers) for four to six hours before bedtime. Similarly, smokers should refrain from using tobacco products too close to bedtime.

Turn Your Bedroom into a Sleep-Inducing Environment

A quiet, dark, and cool environment can help promote sound slumber. Why do you think bats congregate in caves for their daytime sleep? Reduce the volume of outside noise with earplugs or a "white noise" appliance. Use heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask to block light. Light is a powerful cue that tells the brain that it's time to wake up. Keep the temperature comfortably cool—between 60 and 75°F—and the room well ventilated.

Establish a Soothing Pre-Sleep Routine

Light reading before bed is a good way to prepare yourself for sleep. Ease the transition from wake time to sleep time with a period of relaxing activities an hour or so before bed. Take a bath (the rise, then fall in body temperature promotes drowsiness), read a book, watch television, or practice relaxation exercises.

Go to Sleep When You’re Truly Tired

Struggling to fall sleep just leads to frustration. If you’re awake after 20 minutes, get out of bed, go to another room, and do something relaxing, like reading or listening to music until you are tired enough to sleep.

Use Light to Your Advantage

Natural light keeps your internal clock on a healthy sleep-wake cycle. So let in the light first thing in the morning and get out of the office for a sun break during the day.

Have a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Having a regular sleep schedule helps to ensure better quality and consistent sleep. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body’s "internal clock" to expect sleep at a certain time night after night. Try to stick as closely as possible to your routine on weekends to avoid a Monday morning sleep hangover. Waking up at the same time each day is the very best way to set your clock, and even if you did not sleep well the night before, the extra sleep drive will help you consolidate sleep the following night.

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Also read: Can’t Sleep At Night? Here Are Five Ways You Can Tackle Insomnia

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