Does Poor Sleep Lead to Alzheimer’s?

Sleep deprivation is no laughing matter. If you toss and turn at night you’ll likely drag during the day and often need to take daytime naps to try to make up for the lack of sleep. Not only does not getting enough sleep feel bad at the time, it could also have some significant long-term consequences as well. Poor quality or insufficient amounts of sleep have been shown to cause weight gain, negatively impact short term memory, and to increase your risk of a variety of diseases from cancer to depression.

You might think you can get away with short nights of sleep during the week if you are making it up on the weekend, but research is showing that it can cause serious health issues. While the NIH recommends that adults strive for seven to nine hours of sleep per night, many people get much less shut-eye – the average for adults in the United States is less than 7 hours per night. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), up to 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder, and constitutes a public health problem.

The Alzheimer’s Link

Now research is showing that lack of sleep can be a precursor to developing Alzheimer’s disease. According to a new study published in the JAMA journal of Neurology, poor sleep is also associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The March 11 report by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that people suffering from disrupted sleep are likely to have early Alzheimer’s disease even though they aren’t showing signs of cognitive problems or memory loss.

Earlier studies back up the new research, indicating a link between sleep deprivation and brain plaques, and suggesting the connection could work two ways – lack of sleep supports Alzheimer’s plaques, and Alzheimer’s plaques disturb sleep and inhibit the detoxification proves that flushes proteins related to Alzheimer’s, while also causing neuroinflammation.

The new paper connects early Alzheimer’s disease and sleep disturbances in humans. Researchers found that subjects with a sleep efficiency less than 75 percent were up to five times more likely than good sleepers to have preclinical Alzheimer’s disease, reports the National Sleep Foundation.


One common sleep-related occurrence in those with Alzheimer’s disease is called “sundowning”. Some shifts in the sleep-wake cycle, such as nighttime insomnia and daytime napping, restlessness or agitation in the late afternoon or evening can cause sundowning, where an individual may spend as much as 40 percent of their bed time awake, while sleeping significant amounts of time during the day. Some people may find their entire daytime wakefulness-nighttime resting schedule completely reversed, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Medications and Sleep

Certain prescription medications and over the counter products such as antihistamines can influence sleep changes and should be avoided when possible, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Research has indicated that some of these drugs can increase the risk of stroke or death in patients with dementia, resulting in the FDA ordering some of these drug manufacturers to label these medications with a warning that they are not approved for treating dementia symptoms.

If you are prescribed a new medication, take the time to ask your health care professional:

  • What are the benefits of this drug?
  • What are the health risks related to this drug?
  • What natural treatment options are available?

Coping With Sleep Difficulties

In order to encourage healthy sleeping habits, keep the following in mind:

  • Make a safe and comfortable sleeping environment.
  • Maintain a schedule and stick to it. Eat meals at a regular time and keep wakeup and bedtime schedules consistent.
  • Avoid stimulants such as nicotine, caffeine and alcohol, which can interfere with normal sleep. Avoid watching television during hours you should be sleeping.
  • Stay active during the day. Keep busy with activities that engage you and try to avoid afternoon napping. Do moderate exercise during the day, but not within four hours of bedtime.

Try Natural Treatments to Encourage Healthy Sleeping Patterns

Before turning to medications for sleep relief, consider making lifestyle changes that support a regular sleep schedule. Spend time in the sun during the morning, followed by gentle yoga exercises or meditation to energize yourself. Look into natural remedies such as vitamin and mineral supplements. For example, magnesium, calcium, melatonin and foods containing tryptophan are known to be sleep boosters. Consider aromatherapy – spritz some lavender essential oil on your pillow to help you slip into a peaceful slumber.

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