Good sleep is absolutely essential to your overall health, and that includes staving off serious conditions like Alzheimer’s disease
Dementia is one of the most devastating health conditions of our time. As well as being a serious and debilitating condition – causing memory deterioration, confusion and a gradual loss of functions – it’s also extremely common. One in three people born in the UK this year will develop dementia during their lifetime, and there are currently 850,000 people in Britain living with the condition.
There is no cure for dementia and no failsafe way to avoid developing it as you age. However, experts often advise certain lifestyle changes as a way to promote healthy cognitive function and reduce your chances of suffering from Alzheimer’s later in life. One of these lifestyle changes is to prioritise good sleep.
September has been Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and, if you are yet to take a closer look at this topic, let us begin by outlining the close relationship between dementia and sleep deprivation. Not only that but we want to take a look at what you can do to improve your sleep health in the long run.
What is the relationship between dementia and sleep?
People living with dementia often have issues with sleep. Trouble falling and staying asleep are both common in dementia patients, and symptoms of the condition – like memory loss and confusion – can seem worse after a bad night’s sleep.
However, the evidence as to whether poor sleep directly increases the risk of dementia requires further investigation. It’s a complicated topic, as different kinds of dementia are associated with different sleep problems. Light sleep disorders like rapid eye movement behaviour disorder (RBD) are more widely associated with dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease, while Alzheimer’s is more commonly linked to sleep–wake cycle disorders.
Researchers continue to explore the causality of the relationship between sleep and dementia; whether poor sleep causes or worsens dementia, or whether dementia results in poor sleep. Some experts believe that both of these could be true, and that the relationship between sleep deprivation and dementia is circular.
It is clear that more research is needed to understand the relationship between poor sleep and Alzheimer’s, but it’s also clear that sleep is vital for cognitive function. Studies from Age UK have shown that good sleep is necessary for cognitive function and thinking skills, and that sleeping seven to eight hours a night is related to better brain health in older adults, as well as physical health.
Improving your sleep health
Improving the quantity and quality of your sleep requires you to make certain lifestyle changes that prioritise rest and recovery. Setting yourself a clear time to go to sleep and wake up, allowing for the recommended seven to nine hours, will help you get into the habit of sleeping well every night. In the run up to your bedtime, put aside screens from televisions, laptops, tablets and smartphones and instead engage in relaxing activities like reading, stretching and even meditation.
It’s also important to make sure that your bedroom provides the optimum setting for healthy sleep. Keep your bedroom cool, dark and free from screens, and avoid using your bedroom during the day. This will help you associate the space with rest.
Your diet and exercise regime can also play a huge part in how you sleep. Avoid stimulants like coffee, alcohol and spicy food in the run up to bedtime, and aim to do some exercise during the day to help you feel more ready for sleep as the evening draws in. The NHS recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity.