WHILE numerous factors contribute to the onset of dementia, a raft of studies have shown a good night’s sleep is one of the most effective ways to stave off its devastating brain fog.
Just last month Sydney University’s Brain and Mind Centre released a study showing sleep apnoea caused shrinkage in some people’s temporal lobes – a part of the brain critical for long-term memory.
Another study in April was widely reported as showing that just one bad night’s sleep could spark dementia, although Britain’s National Health Service says that’s “misleading”.
After the release of its study, the Sydney uni’s research team urged doctors to screen older people for obstructive sleep apnoea, saying it could help prevent dementia in that population.
“There is no cure for dementia so early intervention is key,” said study leader Professor Sharon Naismith.
“This research shows that diagnosing and treating OSA could be an opportunity to prevent cognitive decline before it’s too late.”
Anyone who’s slept next to an apnoea sufferer would recognise the agonising gulf between one stuttering breath out and the desperate, rasping suck of the next. During that gap, the body’s blood oxygen levels drop dangerously, and that’s where the Sydney uni study found the link with cognitive disfunction, with participants finding it harder to learn new information.
Prof Naismith says they chose the participants, who were aged between 51 and 88 years old, because of their heightened dementia risk.
“Our results suggest that we should be screening for OSA in older people,” Pros Naismith said.
“We should also be asking older patients attending sleep clinics about their memory and thinking skills – and carrying out tests where necessary.”
It’s not only apnoea sufferers at greater risk of dementia because of their sleeping habits.
Numerous studies have pointed to insomnia and “restless leg” syndrome as contributors to dementia, rather than as symptoms as had previously been thought.
But don’t simply head for the sleeping pills as a preventative, as a report by Japanese researchers which was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in June this year found they also contributed to higher dementia rates.
These findings present a worrying picture for Australia’s health system, which already struggles with the $15 billion burden of this mysterious disease. Recent research released by the National Sleep Foundation of Australia found that our nocturnal habits are fuelling an increasingly sleep-deprived population.
Late-night internet use and inactivity has seen anywhere between 33-45 per cent of adults reporting some sort of sleep problem, which was noticeably higher than during the foundation’s first survey in 2010.
There are estimated to be about 425,500 people with dementia at the moment, rising to more than one million by 2056 – unless, as researchers point out, we come up with a cure in the meantime.
by STEVE GRANT
Dementia-busting sleeping tips:
• Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. That helps regulate your body’s clock.
• Get a relaxing bedtime routine (we recommend pointedly ignoring your smart phone).
• No nanna naps. They sound great, but if they’re screwing with your circadian rhythms they’re a no-no.
• Exercise during the day.
• Redesign your bedroom to be as cool, dark and quiet as possible.
• Get a comfortable mattress and pillow (that dip in your old mattress might fit your body shape, but after 10 years it probably means you’re on a clunker that’s affecting your sleep patterns).