Study finds association between sleep problems and dementia

A woman holds her head in bed during a hard time sleeping at night.

Based on an observational study of 6,373 adults, researchers found a connection between sleep problems and increased risks for dementia or dying during an eight-year period. The study published in the Journal of Sleep Research and was supported by the NHLBI, National Institute on Aging, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

To start the review, researchers analyzed data from adults ages 65 and older who participated in the National Health and Aging Trends Study between 2011-2018. During this time, participants completed cognitive assessments, shared medical information, and responded to annual surveys about their
sleep patterns. Did it take them longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep each night? Could they fall back to sleep after waking up early? How often did these sleep disruptions occur? The researchers compared feedback from these surveys to study participants who developed dementia (1,807) or died (2,690) during the assessment. Feedback varied for each question, but about one in every five to six participants reported having at least one sleep disturbance. One in 10 had two. Different sleep disruptions were associated with varying increased risks for dementia or death. However, the authors caution dementia can develop years before symptoms, like disrupted sleep, appear. Therefore, it’s important to view these findings as associations.

The authors also share ways this study may support sleep research. Observational studies could take place with older adults and for longer periods of time. Physicians and researchers could also work with adults who experience sleep disruptions and study how improving sleep patterns may mitigate risks for dementia.