Sleep is one of those tricky problems. We struggle to fall asleep. We struggle to stay asleep. We struggle to get good sleep. But our sleep schedule can actually tell us a lot about our body, health, and state of mind. A new study shows, that how long you sleep may be a warning sign of your likelihood to develop dementia.
Longer Sleep and Dementia
The America-based research project, the Framingham Heart Study, released new findings on sleep and dementia in the Neurology journal. Traditional research on the links between sleep and dementia tends to focus on people getting too little sleep. However, the Framingham findings, released in 2017 suggest the opposite: it is actually worse to get more sleep, rather than less. (1)
Sleep and Dementia: By The Numbers
The researchers of the Framingham Heart Study chose 2,457 people to take part in their long-term study on the effects of sleep and dementia. They asked the participants of this section “how many hours of sleep participants thought they had in a day and how this changed between two points, 13 years apart. Ten years after these sleep assessments, the researchers looked to see who had developed dementia.” (1)
The Sleep Patterns That Could Suggest Dementia
Out of the initial 2,457 people, 234 had developed dementia, and 181 of those had developed Alzheimer’s disease specifically. Those who slept more than nine hours a night were more likely to develop dementia than those who slept less than nine hours. Additionally, “going from sleeping under nine hours to sleeping over nine hours was associated with a greater risk of developing dementia, while there was no increased risk of dementia for those who already slept over nine hours a day.” (1)
What Does The Framingham Heart Study Have To Do With Sleep and Dementia?
The Framingham Heart Study is a long-term research project that began in 1948. The original researchers gathered 5,209 participants from Framingham, Massachusetts. These people were men and women, between 30 and 62 “who had not yet developed overt symptoms of cardiovascular disease or suffered a heart attack or stroke.” The project is now into its third generation of participants. However, just because it started primarily as a study of heart disease doesn’t mean it stayed that way. “Risk factors for other physiological conditions such as dementia have been and continue to be investigated,” says their web page. (3)
The Effects of The Framingham Heart Study on Dementia and Other Diseases
“Framingham changed the way we study and approach chronic diseases in the medical and public health spheres,” according to a Nation Institute of Health (NIH) pamphlet. “Thanks in large part to Framingham, we now go beyond treating disease once it occurs by emphasizing disease prevention and addressing modifiable risk factors.” In fact, Framingham had even more impacts on cultural health studies; “Framingham was an early pioneer in the use of epidemiology to study non-infectious diseases and gave rise to innovative methods that are being put to use in countless studies across the world.” Additionally, over half of the original researchers in the Framingham study were women, which the NIH credits with heart attack and stroke not being seen as men’s diseases. “The overall impact of the Framingham Heart Study is vast,” the NIH says. “The study continues to unveil new insights into human health to this day.” (4)
When To See A Doctor About Your Sleep Habits and Dementia
Although it is important to be in regular and honest communication with your doctor, if you’re having annual checkups (or live somewhere without universal health care and can’t afford to see a doctor right now), there’s no need to rush right to the phone. Unless your sleep habits have suddenly and drastically changed, it can probably wait until your next appointment. Healthy sleep is just one of many factors that can affect your chances of having dementia. Drinking, smoking, high LDL cholesterol, genetic factors, and diabetes can all impact the likelihood of you developing dementia. So, if you try to live a healthy lifestyle, and monitor your sleeping, you should be okay. (1, 2)
What About Too Little Sleep?
Too little sleep is not great for you either, but its risks may lay more in other areas. 2,238 of the 2,457 had filed results for thinking tests and brain scans. The Framingham research says that “short sleep duration (under six hours) and long sleep duration (over nine hours) were associated with poorer performance on thinking tests. However, only longer periods of sleep were associated with lower brain volume, which is used as an indicator of brain shrinkage.” So, while not getting enough sleep might hamper your cognitive success, it won’t increase your chances of developing dementia. (1)
How To Help Your Sleep and Lower Your Risk of Dementia
The impact of too much sleep on your chances of dementia is scary. Additionally, even sleep patterns that don’t raise your risks can hurt you in other ways. It can feel like a lot. Below, we’ll look at some ways to protect yourself and your health.
Train Your Brain
According to Stanford Health Care, a great way to lower your chances of dementia is to “stay mentally alert.” They recommend “learning new hobbies, reading, or solving crossword puzzles.” (2)
Slow Down On Smoking
Stanford Health Care says that “smoking significantly increases the risk of mental decline and dementia. People who smoke have a higher risk of atherosclerosis and other types of vascular disease, which may be the underlying causes for the increased dementia risk.” So, cut down on smoking to lower your risk of developing dementia. (2)
Learn to Manage Sleep and Health for Dementia Prevention
Keeping your sleep and health in good condition is so important. Dementia and other ailments can be staved off by caring properly for your health. That’s why Dr. Partha Nandi has compiled a newsletter with the best tips for health and sleep. Dr. Nandi has a variety of different ways to safeguard your wellness and look after your mind and body.