This Sleeping Pattern Could Mean Dementia Development

People with irregular sleep patterns might have a higher risk of dementia than those with regular sleep patterns, according to a new study published in the journal Neurology.

Sleeping Patterns: Looking For Signs of Dementia

Experts at the American Academy of Neurology recently published a paper that suggested waking up regularly throughout the night, and otherwise having an unpredictable sleep schedule, may be linked to later dementia development.

Regular sleep is how consistent you are about going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day, not the number of hours you sleep a night. The researchers said sleep education and behavior therapies can improve irregular sleep patterns.  

The paper, published in the online journal Neurology, was called “Association of the Sleep Regularity Index With Incident Dementia and Brain Volume.”

“The aim of this study was to assess the association between sleep regularity, that is, the day-to-day consistency in sleep-wake patterns and the risk of incident dementia and related brain MRI endophenotypes,” the introduction to the paper read.

The study followed 88,094 UK participants for an average of seven years. The mean age of participants was 62. They found that those with the most irregular sleep patterns were 53% more likely to develop dementia compared to people with more regular sleep patterns.

Participants wore a wristband that measured their sleep. Scientists used this to gauge the probability of a person being asleep or awake at two time points in 24 hours.

A person who always fell asleep at the same time and woke up at the same time would have a sleep predictability score of 100; those with a less regular sleep pattern that was harder to predict would have a lower score.

Those in the lowest 5% had an average score of 41. Those in the highest 5% had an average score of 71. The overall average was 60.

During an average follow-up period of seven years, 480 participants developed dementia.

“The association between irregular sleep and the risk of dementia was compelling, especially given that it was observed in such a large sample,” Matthew Pase, PhD of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, told Healthline. “The findings were also independent of sleep duration and disruption, suggesting that sleep regularity is important in itself. This data suggests that when thinking about what constitutes good sleep, we (researchers and the public) should consider sleep regularity as well as overall sleep duration and quality.”

Experts say an irregular sleep pattern affects this system and may be a riskTrusted Source factor for cognitive decline.

“Irregular sleep patterns are a challenge to the circadian timing system, which operates in parallel to our sleeping and waking,” said Mary A Carskadon, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. “Sleeping provides a profound ‘darkness’ signal to the circadian system and this signal helps to set and stabilize circadian timing.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and PreventionTrusted Source recommends the following tips for getting better sleep:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, comfortable, and relaxing.
  • Avoid keeping electronics like your phone, tablet, or laptop in your bedroom.
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol shortly before sleep.
  • Get regular exercise.

The American Academy of Neurology says “The study does not prove that sleep irregularity causes dementia. It only shows an association.”

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