How optimal sleep patterns could help lower dementia risk

Jul 08, 2024
The findings suggest that those aged over 60 are more likely to develop dementia if they miss only one per cent of what is called slow wave sleep. Source: Getty Images.

An Australian-led study has discovered how older adults could help protect themselves from developing dementia, raising hope for those impacted and their families.

Monash University neuroscientist Matthew Pase led the study that looked at the sleep patterns of 346 participants and compared the data of two overnight sleep studies between 1995 and 1998 and between 2001 and 2003.

The findings suggest that those aged over 60 are more likely to develop dementia if they miss only one per cent of slow wave sleep.

Slow wave sleep is the most restful stage of the human sleep cycle, when brain waves and heart rate slow and blood pressure drops. Researchers believe slow wave sleep helps the body boost the immune system, support memory function, repair tissue, and help eliminate waste products from the body.

“Slow-wave sleep, or deep sleep, supports the ageing brain in many ways, and we know that sleep augments the clearance of metabolic waste from the brain, including facilitating the clearance of proteins that aggregate in Alzheimer’s disease,” Pase said.

“We used these to examine how slow-wave sleep changed with aging and whether changes in slow-wave sleep percentage were associated with the risk of later-life dementia up to 17 years later.

”However, to date we have been unsure of the role of slow-wave sleep in the development of dementia. Our findings suggest that slow-wave sleep loss may be a modifiable dementia risk factor.”

When researchers focused on who developed Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, they found the risk from reduced slow wave sleep increased to 32 per cent.

By 2018, 52 participants were diagnosed with the illness. Low levels of slow-wave sleep were also linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

While the study shows a link between losing deep sleep and developing dementia, Pase said the results were not conclusive and more research was needed.

As we journey through the later stages of life, preserving cognitive health becomes increasingly important. While ageing is accompanied by natural changes in our brains and cognitive abilities, there are proactive steps we can take to promote a vibrant and sharp mind as we grow older in addition to quality sleep. 

By adopting lifestyle modifications, engaging in intellectual stimulation, and managing underlying health conditions, we can empower ourselves to lead fulfilling lives and safeguard our cognitive well-being.

Clinical Psychologist and Author, Dr Tracey Zielinski recently shared with Starts at 60 the following as effective strategies for staying sharp well into older age:

  • Maintain a good social network. Varied and stimulating conversation is incredibly helpful in staving off dementia.
  • Maintain an active, healthy lifestyle.
  • Keep your mind active by learning new things, maintaining hobbies, reading, doing puzzles, playing a musical instrument, playing games, etc.
  • Manage medical issues such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Be aware of and manage stress. Consider learning and practising relaxation techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, mindfulness, meditation, etc.
  • Limit consumption of alcohol and other drugs, including cigarettes.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.






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