A study led by Associate Professor Matthew Pase from Monash School of Psychological Sciences reveals that even a mere 1% reduction in deep sleep per year for individuals over 60 significantly increases their risk of dementia by 27%.
This finding suggests that preserving or enhancing deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep, among older individuals could help prevent dementia.
The research analyzed 346 participants aged over 60 who were part of the Framingham Heart Study.
They underwent two overnight sleep studies between 1995-1998 and 2001-2003, with an average of five years between the two. The study participants were tracked for dementia from the second sleep study until 2018.
The study discovered an average decline in deep sleep between the two studies, indicating a loss of slow wave sleep associated with aging. Over the next 17 years, 52 cases of dementia were identified.
Even after adjusting for various factors such as age, sex, genetic factors, and medication use, each yearly decrease of 1% in deep sleep was linked to a 27% increased risk of dementia.
Associate Professor Pase explained that deep sleep plays a crucial role in supporting the aging brain, aiding in the clearance of metabolic waste, including proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Until now, it was unclear how slow wave sleep influenced dementia development, but these findings suggest that slow wave sleep loss might be a modifiable risk factor for dementia.
The research utilized the unique Framingham Heart Study, which includes repeated overnight sleep studies and long-term dementia surveillance. The study examined changes in slow wave sleep with age and their association with dementia risk up to 17 years later.
The study also explored whether genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease or early neurodegeneration in brain volume were linked to reduced slow wave sleep.
The study revealed that while a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease correlated with faster declines in slow wave sleep, brain volume did not show such an association.
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The research findings can be found in JAMA Neurology.
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