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  • Zuzia Boguslawska

Sleep problems and Alzheimer's disease

The relationship between dementia and sleep


Scientific evidence suggests that good sleep is essential for the body's function at any age. The recommended sleep time for older adults is 7-8 hours. At night, your body releases hormones that help repair cells and control the body's energy use. People with Alzheimer's disease often suffer from sleeping problems, and the disturbances tend to worsen as dementia progresses in severity. Short sleep duration is linked to many chronic health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression. Researchers are not sure yet what is the relationship between dementia and sleep- does poor sleep lead to the decline of brain functioning, or dementia causes poor sleep.


Common sleep problems related to dementia

  • Insomnia

Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which patients have dissatisfaction with sleep quality or duration, difficulty falling asleep at night, or waking up too early in the morning. It can lead to daytime fatigue, low energy, difficulty in maintaining attention. Studies show that insomnia can induce aggregation of Aβ proteins, which appear to play a central role in the pathology of Alzheimer disease.

  • Obstructed sleep apnea (OSA)

It is a condition marked by loud snoring, choking, and other respiratory symptoms due to collapse of the airway during sleep. If you can't breathe very well at night, your brain can't get enough oxygen, leading to severe brain issues and high blood pressure. People of all ages can be affected by sleep-disordered breathing, but the disorder is most common in the elderly and obese people.

  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS)

Restless legs syndrome is another potential cause for nighttime sleep disturbance in dementia patients. The condition can be recognised by unsettling crawling or tingling feelings in the legs that patients alleviate by moving their legs. A current clinical study explores whether a drug called gabapentin enacarbil can improve sleep in nursing home residents with Alzheimer's and nighttime agitation.


Supporting a good night's sleep


Good quality sleep is linked to good cognitive health, and therefore it is crucial to help an individual with Alzheimer's disease fix their sleeping problems. Some medications can aid sleep, but evidence suggests that these drugs can be linked to an increased risk of dementia. That's why it is recommended to start with lifestyle changes. Here are some of them:


  • Maintain regular meal times and wake up, and go to bed at the same time each day.

  • Try to expose yourself to daylight.

  • Exercise regularly, but no later than four hours before bedtime.

  • Avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol, especially at night.

  • Ensure that the temperature in your bedroom isn't too high or too low before going to bed.

  • Limit the screens at least 2 hours before going to bed.


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