Deep Sleep Enhancement Could Ward Off Dementia, Research Suggests

New research from Monash University has uncovered a compelling link between deep sleep and dementia risk, suggesting that even a small annual decrease in deep sleep could significantly elevate the risk of developing dementia in older adults. Specifically, the study found that a mere 1% annual reduction in deep sleep for individuals aged 60 and over is associated with a substantial 27% increase in the risk of dementia.

The study, led by Associate Professor Matthew Pase from the Monash School of Psychological Sciences and the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, was published in the esteemed journal JAMA Neurology. It involved 346 participants, all over 60 years old, from the Framingham Heart Study. These participants underwent two separate overnight sleep studies between 1995-1998 and 2001-2003, with a median interval of five years between the studies.

Following the second sleep study, the health of the participants was meticulously monitored until 2018 to detect any onset of dementia. The data revealed a general decline in the amount of deep sleep among participants over time, reflecting a typical age-related decrease in slow-wave sleep. During the 17-year follow-up period, 52 participants were diagnosed with dementia. After adjusting for various factors such as age, sex, genetic predispositions, and lifestyle habits, the researchers concluded that each annual 1% drop in deep sleep increased the risk of dementia by 27%.

Associate Professor Pase emphasized the importance of deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep, in maintaining brain health as we age. “Deep sleep supports the aging brain in numerous ways, particularly by aiding in the removal of metabolic waste, including the proteins that accumulate in Alzheimer’s disease,” Pase explained. “While we’ve long known about the benefits of deep sleep, our research now indicates that a reduction in slow-wave sleep could be a modifiable risk factor for dementia.”

Pase also highlighted the unique contributions of the Framingham Heart Study, which provided a comprehensive community-based cohort with repeated PSG sleep studies and continuous health monitoring. “Our goal was to understand how slow-wave sleep changes with age and whether these changes are linked to the risk of developing dementia nearly two decades later,” he added.

Interestingly, the study also explored the potential connections between genetic risks for Alzheimer’s disease, early signs of neurodegeneration, and reductions in slow-wave sleep. The findings suggested that while genetic predispositions for Alzheimer’s were associated with faster declines in slow-wave sleep, changes in brain volume were not linked to reductions in slow-wave sleep.

These findings underscore the potential protective benefits of maintaining or even enhancing deep sleep as we age. As our understanding of the relationship between sleep and brain health continues to evolve, focusing on improving sleep quality could become a crucial strategy in reducing dementia risk among older adults.

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