Data from the United States Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention suggests that roughly one in three Americans rarely get enough sleep—and the average is higher, globally: 45 percent. This is important because, as the CDC dictates, sleep deprivation is a “public health problem” that has been associated with an increased risk for other chronic conditions like stroke, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
But this recent study, from a team at the Boston University School of Medicine says that we might need to add dementia to the list of associated conditions. Looking at the sleep patterns of 321 participants over the age of 60, the researchers followed a 12 year examination to track potential for dementia risk.
Study author Dr. Matthew Pase explains, “Different stages of sleep may differentially affect key features of Alzheimer’s disease. Our findings implicate REM sleep mechanisms as predictors of dementia.”
REM stands for “rapid eye movement” and “REM sleep”, of course, is the name given to the very important phase of sleep which “occurs in intervals throughout the night, and is characterized by more dreaming and rapid eye movements,” as described by Pase. Essentially when the body enters REM sleep (the deepest state of sleep), the eyes dart around under the closed eyelids; it is a time when people experience the most vivid dreams, generally because the brain is trying to catalog information.
Also a senior research fellow with the Swinburne University of Technology, in Australia, Pase also says, “We found that persons experiencing less REM sleep over the course of a night displayed an increased risk of developing dementia in the future,” noting for every 1 percent drop in REM sleep, the seniors involved with the study would have an increase in Alzheimer’s disease risk by as much as 9 percent!
Now, the Alzheimer’s Society has already found that most people over the age of 65 have a at least a one in 14 chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. So, with all this in mind, Dr. Pase says “The next step will be to determine why lower REM sleep predicts a greater risk of dementia. By clarifying the role of sleep in the onset of dementia, the hope is to eventually identify possible ways to intervene so that dementia can be delayed or even prevented.”
The results of this new research has been published in the medical journal Neurology.