Your sleeping patterns could be indicative of early-onset dementia



Published Feb 2, 2023


We've all struggled with sleep issues at some point in our lives.

Problems falling asleep, staying asleep, remembering things, making decisions, and being irritable are all symptoms of sleep disturbances, or possibly a sleep disorder, which experts link to early-onset dementia.

Dementia is a type of cognitive impairment that affects a person's ability to function safely. It is also known as a major neurocognitive disorder or mild cognitive disorder.

According to a study published in the online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, people who are normally healthy may be more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease later in life if they experience sleep issues than those who do not.

Researchers discovered that those who suffer from sleep disturbances may have markers in their spinal fluid that indicate Alzheimer's disease.

In 2014, roughly five million adults over the age of 65 had dementia, and that number is expected to reach 14 million by 2060, claims the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Research author Barbara B Bendlin, PhD. of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, claims previous data has suggested that sleep may influence the onset or progression of Alzheimer's disease in many ways. For instance, since the brain's clearing system activates when you sleep, interrupted or insufficient sleep may induce amyloid plaque accumulation.

Alzheimer's disease is a particular illness, whereas dementia is a general term for a deterioration in mental capacity severe enough to interfere with daily life. Dementia most frequently results from Alzheimer's disease.

The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the hypothalamus of the brain is responsible for controlling our sleep-wake patterns. The American Academy of Neurology reported that if the SCN is lost, our ability to maintain a normal sleep-wake pattern will be adversely affected, thereby increasing the chances of early-onset dementia.

The study recruited 101 individuals with an average age of 63 who were thought to be at risk of acquiring Alzheimer's disease due to either having a parent who had the condition or carrying the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene, which raises the risk for the disease. Participants answered questions about their sleep quality. Additionally, they gave spinal fluid samples that were examined for biochemical indicators of Alzheimer's disease.

It was discovered that persons who reported poorer sleep quality, more sleep issues, and daytime sleepiness had greater biological indicators for Alzheimer's disease in their spinal fluid than those who did not report these issues. These biological indicators included indicators of amyloid and damage to and inflammation of brain cells.

An irregular sleep-wake pattern usually manifests as a series of naps that occur within 24 hours rather than one full night of continuous sleep.

The study also highlights that everyone is affected by dementia differently. Although the progression of this illness means that it will get worse over time. But for some people, symptoms seem to occur quickly, while for others may seem to develop more gradually over several months.

What causes Dementia?

The National Institutes of Health claims dementia is brought on by several conditions that contribute to the death of brain cells. The brain's capacity to operate effectively is hampered by cell degeneration, death, and injury.

Signs to lookout for:

  • Sleeping during the day and being awake and restless during the night
  • Disorientation in the dark if you wake up to use the toilet
  • Waking up more often and staying awake longer during the night


Although there is no proven prevention regimen for dementia, leading a healthy lifestyle can assist in reducing the risks associated with the disease. Medication can mitigate some of its symptoms, but a cure is not currently available. Its treatment is highly dependent on the cause, symptoms, and severity of the disease.

Moreover, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a balanced diet, and no smoking is associated with a lower risk of dementia. These behaviours improve vascular health, which can impact brain health.

Granted that research is still unclear if sleep may affect the development of the disease or if the disease affects the quality of sleep, more analysis is needed to further define the relationship between sleep and these biomarkers, said Bendlin.