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One Stage of Sleep Seems to Be Critical For Reducing The Risk of Dementia

0 6 months ago

The risk of getting dementia may go up as you get older if you don’t get enough slow-wave sleep. Over-60s are 27 percent more likely to get dementia if they lose just 1 percent of this deep sleep each year, a new study has found.

Slow-wave sleep is the third stage of a human 90-minute sleep cycle, lasting about 20–40 minutes. It’s the most restful stage, where brain waves and heart rate slow and blood pressure drops.

Deep sleep strengthens our muscles, bones, and immune system, and prepares our brains to absorb more information. Earlier this year, research discovered that individuals with Alzheimer’s-related changes in their brain did better on memory tests when they got more slow-wave sleep.

“Slow-wave sleep, or deep sleep, supports the aging brain in many ways, and we know that sleep augments the clearance of metabolic waste from the brain, including facilitating the clearance of proteins that aggregate in Alzheimer’s disease,” says neuroscientist Matthew Pase from Monash University in Australia.

The Framington Heart Study measures multiple health data points over time, including hippocampal volume loss (an early sign of Alzheimer’s) and common factors contributing to cardiovascular disease.

Low levels of slow-wave sleep were linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, taking medications that can impact sleep, and having the APOE ε4 gene, which is linked to Alzheimer’s.

“We found that a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, but not brain volume, was associated with accelerated declines in slow wave sleep,” Pase says.

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Although these are clear associations, the authors note this type of study doesn’t prove that slow-wave sleep loss causes dementia, and it’s possible dementia-related brain processes cause sleep loss. For these factors to be fully understood, more research is required.

“However, to date we have been unsure of the role of slow-wave sleep in the development of dementia. Our findings suggest that slow-wave sleep loss may be a modifiable dementia risk factor.”

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