Does Disturbed Sleep Increase Risk of Dementia?

January 19, 2015
Oxygenated sleep may decrease risk of dementia in later years.

Oxygenated sleep may decrease risk of dementia in later years.

Everyone know that getting a good night’s sleep is important. A new study raises the possibility that dementia may be linked to sleep issues.

Link suspected

The study, entitled “Associations of brain lesions at autopsy with polysomnography features before death,” was published online in the journal Neurology, and indicates a link between dementia and sleep. The study does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship, but it adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests that how one sleeps can impact memory capability.

The study

The study was carried out in Hawaii and looked at data gathered from a group of 167 men whose average age was 84. Researchers first examined all of the men’s sleep patterns, and then divided the men into four different groups based on how much of their sleep was spent in a state in which they received low amounts of oxygen. (Lower oxygen levels are associated with sleep apnea and some other sleep disturbances.)

Researchers then looked at other data to determine how many microinfarcts, or tiny strokes less than 1 millimeter in size, had occurred in each man. In the group of men who received the most oxygen during sleep, only 4 of 41 men had microinfarcts. In the group with the least oxygen, the number of men with microinfarcts rose to 14 in 42. Therefore, those in the lowest oxygen group were four times as likely to have had a microinfarct.

The scientists also looked at the amount of time that the men spent in the stage of sleep which is considered the most restful and restorative and found that then men with the least amount of restorative sleep had a greater degree of atrophy in brain tissue.

Neither of these findings conclusively proves that sleep disturbances cause dementia; however, microinfarcts and brain atrophy are more frequently found in people with dementia, suggesting that there may be some link between sleep patterns and dementia.

Treat sleep issues

While it may be years before scientists know whether sleep disturbances definitely increase the risk of dementia, it is clear that sleeping well has benefits for all. Seniors with sleep apnea, insomnia, and other sleep problems should consult a doctor to find treatments to alleviate these issues.


Neurology article (“Associations of brain lesions at autopsy with polysomnography features before death”)

Writer, Craig Butler

Craig Butler has been writing on a wide range of topics for more than fifteen years. As the National Communications Director for the Cooley's Anemia Foundation, Craig regularly writes on a range of health and medical topics. Among the many projects he has written for the Foundation is the Cooley's Anemia Storybook, a collection of original short stories for children with the blood disorder Cooley's Anemia. His freelance work has ranged from reviewing moves and CDs to creating entertainment-related stories about baldness, to creating text for comic strips. Craig looks forward to having a dialogue with you about senior care and issues of concern.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


"We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with some of Fairfax County's most special people, our CAREGivers."

7058 Columbia Pike Annandale, VA 22003 703.750.6644