We’re all aware of the damage we cause by not getting enough sleep.
But according to new research, sleeping for too long can be a cause for concern, too.
Despite there being a load of studies that have linked Alzheimer’s disease and dementia with a lack of sleep, a recent study from the University of Miami Miller School found that people who slept for nine hours or more per night showed a decline in memory and language skills – both of which are early signs of dementia.
That doesn’t mean you should dramatically cut down on your snoozing time, though – those who got less than six hours of sleep a night were also found to be at an increased risk of developing dementia.
As you might expect, the ideal amount of sleep is still seven to eight hours a night.
Researchers aren’t sure why there’s a relationship between sleeping lots and developing dementia, and it’s not as simple as a cause and effect connection.
They believe that people at risk of dementia may have disruptions in their brain which mean they need longer sleeps.
Too much sleep has been linked to lesions in the brain known as white matter hyperintensities, thought to be caused by decreased blood flow to the brain. The presence of these raises the risk of cognitive decline, dementia, and stroke.
Researchers looked at 5,247 Hispanic participants, all between the ages of 45 and 75, assessing their attention, memory, language, reaction time, and perception. Participants were also given a neurocognitive test at the start and end of the study, and were asked to fill out weekly questionnaires about their sleeping habits over the last week, including what time they normally go to bed, what time they wake up, and if they have any naps during the day.
Just 15% of participants slept for an average of nine hours each night, and this group saw their cognitive performance across all fields fall by the end of the seven years. Their memory decreased by 13% while their word fluency dropped by 20%.
Dr Ramos, a neurologist and sleep expert at the University of Miami, said: ‘Insomnia and prolonged sleep duration appear to be linked to a decline in neurocognitive functioning that can precede the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.
‘We observed that prolonged periods of sleep and chronic insomnia symptoms led to declines in memory, executive function and processing speed.
‘Those measures can precede the development of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.’
‘We may also be able to identify at-risk patients who may benefit from early intervention to prevent or reduce the risk of dementia.’
What are the symptoms of dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms that affect cognitive function, such as memory loss, confusion and changes to personality.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for around two thirds of all cases.
Common early symptoms of dementia:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Find it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks
- Struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word
- Being confused about time or and place
- Mood changes
Symptoms of advanced dementia:
- Memory problems to the point that people may not recognise close family and friends or remember where they live
- Communication problems
- Mobility problems
- Behavioural problems, such as agitation, depression, anxiety, wandering around, and aggression
- Weight loss
What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, and the most common type.
Dementia is a group of symptoms that affect mental cognitive tasks – it’s a syndrome and not a disease. It’s the umbrella term which diseases like Alzheimer’s fall under.
There are other types of dementia, too, and each has their own symptoms to look out for.
Common types of dementia and their symptoms:
- Memory problems
- Asking the same questions over and over
- Becoming confused in unfamiliar environments
- Becoming withdrawn or anxious
- Difficulty with tasks that require planning and organisation
- Difficulty finding the right word
- Difficulty with numbers
- Stroke-like symptoms such as muscle weakness or temporary paralysis on one side of the body
- Difficulty walking or a change in how someone walks
- Struggles with attention, planning, and reasoning
- Mood changes
Dementia with Lewy bodies
- Fluctuating levels of confusion, with periods of being alert or drowsy
- Visual hallucinations
- Slowness in physical movement
- Repeated falls and fainting
- Sleep disturbances
Other types of dementia include frontotemporal dementia, early onset dementia, mild cognitive impairment, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease dementia, Korsakoff syndrome, and Huntington’s disease dementia.
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