We tend to think that forgetfulness goes hand in hand with old age, but experts say memory loss isn’t actually considered a normal part of aging. Important memory loss is usually a sign of dementia, a group of symptoms that can also impact social skills and cognitive abilities. Although there is currently no cure for dementia, there are several ways to reduce your risk and even reverse some of its early symptoms.
A particular risk factor for dementia is something you may not even realize you are doing at night. Experts warn that if you do this regularly in your 50s and 60s, your risk of dementia later in life skyrockets by 30%. Read on to find out which nighttime routine could put you at increased risk and why so much hinges on this one health habit.
From Alzheimer’s disease to Lewy body dementia, there are many forms of dementia. These can affect different areas of the brain and present with a wide range of symptoms. However, generally speaking, “dementia is caused by damage or loss of nerve cells and their connections in the brain“, explains the Mayo Clinic.
Various risk factors can increase or decrease your chances of develop dementia, some of which, such as your age, family history or presence of Down syndrome, are beyond your control. However, there are several other factors that you can influence through behavior, for better or for worse. Factors that increase the risk include poor diet, lack of exercise, excessive alcohol consumption, nutritional deficiencies, head trauma, exposure to air pollution, unmanaged depression, etc.
According to a 2021 study by the NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA), an important factor that you can control is if you get enough sleep.
The researchers, who published their work in the journal Nature Communicationanalyzed data from around 8,000 UK citizens without dementia from the age of 50. Between 1985 and 2016, subjects were assessed on various health measures, including the number of hours they slept one night. “To assess the accuracy of this self-report, some of the participants wore accelerometers to objectively measure Sleeping time“, explains the NIH. At the time of the conclusion of the study, 521 participants had been diagnosed with dementia, with an average age of 77 years.
From this data, the researchers extracted a startling discovery. Participants in their 50s and 60s who reported sleeping six hours or less had a significantly increased risk of developing dementia later in life. “Compared to those who sleep normally (defined as seven hours), people who rested less each night were 30% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia,” writes the NIH.
Sleep disorders are known hallmark of dementia, making it difficult to determine whether lack of sleep is a causative factor that makes the disease more likely or a very early symptom. “Sleep disorders and Alzheimer’s disease [the most common form of dementia] often go hand in hand,” explain experts from the Mayo Clinic. “Many older people have problems sleeping, but people with dementia often have even more trouble. Sleep disturbances may affect up to 25% of people with mild to moderate dementia and 50% of people with severe dementia,” they write, adding: “Sleep disturbances tend to worsen as dementia progresses in severity.
However, the NIH team thinks that poor sleep could very well be not just a symptom, but also an independent risk factor. “While we can’t confirm that not getting enough sleep actually increases the risk of dementia, there are many reasons why a good night’s sleep may be good for brain health,” says Severine SabiaMD, lead author of the study.
The findings of the study are supported by previous research which also suggests that get enough sleep protects cognitive functions and memory. “Sleep isn’t wasted time, or just a way to rest when all our important work is done. Instead, it’s a critical function, during which your body balances and regulates its vital systems. , affecting respiration and regulating everything from circulation to growth and immune response,” explained the neurologist. Shai MarcuMD, at a 2015 TED talk.
He adds that sleep is “crucial for your brain, with one-fifth of your body’s circulatory blood being delivered to it when you doze off. And what happens in your brain while you sleep is an intensely active period of restructuring that is crucial for the functioning of our memory.”
So, if you have the chance, go to bed a little earlier tonight. You might just remember to thank yourself down the road.
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