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Is lost sleep a sign of dementia? Well, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sleep problems and insufficient sleep are global health epidemics. According to the stats, 50-70 million American adults face sleep or wakefulness disorders at least once in their lives.

This affects their daily functioning, including work productively, driving, and even interpersonal relationships. In addition to physicians’ recommendation that when you eat well and exercise, you live a healthy life. Experts also suggest getting a good night’s sleep to combat early signs of dementia.

dementia man sleeping inside wagon Photo by Mika 600x450 - Alzheimer's Symptoms: Is Lost Sleep a Sign of Dementia?
When you can’t sleep at night, you get to sleep when you can, sometimes, it doesn’t matter where. Photo by Mika

Is lost sleep a sign of dementia? Well, a lack of sleep has been linked to some severe health problems. One can expect to experience depression, stress, weight gain, type II diabetes, and even cognitive dysfunction. If you know someone like this, you should become familiar with the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Today, our focus will be the relationship between dementia and lost sleep. Though there is a lot of research which we should discuss. It is crucial we talk about dementia and find out a few facts about what it is and how it affects people.

A Closer Look at Dementia

Dementia refers to a mental disease which blankets several different pathophysiological conditions. Patients diagnosed with dementia may face several challenges. Some of those challenges include memory loss, a cognitive dysfunction that worsens with time, and an inability to carry out daily activities.

People with dementia are not able to socialize as they did before and can’t often receive or give emotional reactions. Though among the most common forms of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, patients with vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia, Shy-Drager syndrome, alcoholic-related dementia, and Parkinson’s disease also go through similar phases of dementia.

According to the Institute of Dementia Research & Prevention, 1 in 10 men and 1 in 6 women will suffer from dementia-related symptoms after they reach the age of 55. Among these, around 60-70% of these patients may have Alzheimer’s later as the symptoms progress.

Why dementia patients don’t sleep? Unfortunately, one of the most prominent signs of dementia is sleep loss. Approximately 1/3 of the patients experience sleep disturbances such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. So, our goal is to inform you about the connection between the two so you can benefit from the information.

The Link Between Dementia and Sleep

Before we dive deep into the connection between sleep and dementia, it is imperative to understand their relationship is inversely proportional. Some research shows lost sleep a sign of dementia. The experts studied patients with dementia that suffer from sleep issues and list it as a symptom.

However, because the distinction between the two is challenging to detect, we will discuss some of the most prominent studies which have been conducted recently.

Is lost sleep a sign of dementia? According to a study led by Maiken Nedergaard of URMC’s Center for Translational Neuromedicine, insufficiency of sleep may lead to Alzheimer’s. The researchers believe the glymphatic system is ten times more active during sleep than it is while you’re awake.

The glymphatic system is also known as the waste-draining system. The reason why this cleaning system is so essential for you and your health is because it helps to remove the amyloid-beta protein, which is known to cause dementia and Alzheimer’s.

demential photo braden barwich 600x450 - Alzheimer's Symptoms: Is Lost Sleep a Sign of Dementia?
Getting older may be a blessing but it sure has its share of problems, too. Photo by Braden Barwich

Is Lost Sleep a Sign of Dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Yes, and we can further prove it with another research led by neuroscience professor Bryce Mander of UC Berkley, along with William Jagust. They discovered when you miss out on deep or non-rapid eye movement sleep, you may be leaving your brain vulnerable to memory loss. This is a symptom often associated with dementia and the early signs of Alzheimer’s. Now when someone asks if is lost sleep a sign of dementia, you’ll know it certainly is. 

The study published in Nature Neuroscience found beta-amyloid is highly concentrated in the brains of people who consistently experience poor sleep. As the protein’s amounts rise in mind, it hampers your ability to sleep even further. This results in a vicious circle that can further lead to severe problems in later life.

Finally, we look at a study conducted by Adam Spira, an associate professor in the Department of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins University. He, along with his colleagues, conclude there is a close connection between beta-amyloid, sleep disturbances, and dementia. 

The study included 70 seniors and their sleeping habits. With the help of PET scans, scientists discover the individuals who have the poorest sleeping qualities. Those with shorter sleep duration have higher amounts of the amyloid protein in their brains when they compare to those who stated otherwise.

Types of Sleep Disturbances

Are you still asking “Is lost sleep a sign of dementia?” Do you think insomnia is the only sleep problem people face? If so, you’re sadly mistaken. The reality is there are plenty of different types of issues. Consider sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, periodic limbic movements, REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) and sleep-disordered breathing as barriers in an individual’s sleep.

Although most of these issues are related to old age, sleep apnea and RBD, however, are closely related to dementia. It is why we will dive in deep into both of these symptoms and find out exactly what they are and how they relate to patients with dementia.

Sleep Apnea

In layman terms, sleep apnea is when an individual experiences a temporary loss of breath during sleep. You can categorize sleep apnea in two ways:

  1. The obstructive sleep apnea characterized by an obstruction of the upper airway
  2. The central sleep apnea which happens due to issues in the central nervous system or cardiovascular region

According to expert testimony, 90% of people with moderate or severe Alzheimer’s experience five or more breathless events per hour of sleep. Unfortunately, this is sometimes fatal. Experts believe this particular symptom closely relates to severe dementia and vice versa.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

Another symptom linking to dementia is RBD. People who suffer from this disorder act out their dreams. They physically move their limbs and even get out of bed while sleeping. Surprising, they engage in activities making them appear fully aware of what they are doing.

While sleeping, talking is one of the most common signs of this disorder. Patients sometimes shout, scream, hit or punch during this dream-like state. RBD is a prognostic and predictive tool of the neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s.

Is Lost Sleep a Sign of Dementia?

Do you need 8 hours of sleep? We can answer that by saying this: One of the most common misconceptions about sleep is it’s necessary for someone to sleep for at least 7-8 hours straight to feel rested. What you have to understand is it’s not the quantity of sleep that matters but the quality.

It won’t matter if you go to bed at 11 pm and wake up at 6 am if you do not sleep or keep waking up intermittently. On the other hand, uninterrupted sleep for 6-7 hours is enough. Additionally, you have to remember some people don’t need as much sleep as others.

Such people can go about their day’s activities after sleeping for a mere 4-5 hours, while others yawn their way through the day. Those with less sleep will remain active and alert throughout. Another thing you need to note is resting at night isn’t the only way you’re going to get enough sleep.

According to a paper by Roger Ekrick of Virginia Tech University, history suggests you need to sleep in two distinct chunks of time. In his book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, Ekrick references several hundred records from diaries, court records, literature, and medical books. From this information, Roger Ekrick reported people used to get at least 1-2 hours of sleep mid-day and completed the rest at night.

What Can You Do To Get More Sleep?

Is lost sleep a sign of dementia? Yes, it is and patients who have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia need more attention. This is especially true when it comes to sleeping and eating habits. If you’re someone who is caring for a patient with dementia, you can improve sleep quality. Try using prescribed medication and treatments plus bring the following steps in routine.

dementia drinking coffee Matheus Ferrero photo 1485659803795 8a92718be484 600x400 - Alzheimer's Symptoms: Is Lost Sleep a Sign of Dementia?
Too much coffee can cause sleeplessness Photo by Matheus Ferrero

Cut back on caffeine: One of the worst things you can do with your sleep is to have caffeinated drinks such as coffee or tea before bed. Because these are stimulants that promote wakefulness, they shouldn’t drink them, especially after sundown.

Maintain sleep schedule: The brain is wired to function in the morning and rest at night. Unfortunately, with all the gadgets around us, it is often difficult to maintain a regular circadian pattern. Though it may take some time at the start, sleeping and waking up daily at the same time will help you get into a habit.

Don’t miss out on activity: Do you wonder why children go to sleep the minute they hit the bed? One of the reasons behind this is children get a lot of activity throughout the day. They play games that require them to engage in physical activity. When you make healthy habits and get plenty of physical exercise as a part of your loved one’s day, they will likely go to sleep on time.

Final Thoughts

Is lost sleep a sign of dementia? Some studies show there is a close relationship between sleep and dementia. In this case, it is essential you get a BrainTest and ask a qualified physician for the diagnosis. With proper care and medication, it’s possible to reduce sleep disturbances in intensity and number. 

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Mikki Donaldson is a southern girl, a woman of color born in “hard time Mississippi.” She, like her town, has seen many hurricanes, but bounce back each time. Mikki is no different from any other person with a passion, late to bed and early to rise. The writer is a mother, daughter, and grandmother who adores her family and seeks to leave her mark on this remarkable and changing world.