Poor sleep habits can increase your risk of dementia: study

MONTREAL – Middle-aged people who don’t get enough sleep may have a higher risk of dementia 25 to 30 years later, a recent British study warns.

However, two Quebec experts consulted by The Canadian Press insist that this does not mean that people in their fifties who only sleep five or six hours a night are automatically doomed to develop dementia at age 80, any more than those who have excellent sleep. automatically protected.

Sleep disorders and cognitive problems are multifactorial, they explain, and it can be very difficult to tell who is responsible for what.

The authors of the study, published in Nature Communications, followed some 8,000 people in the UK for 25 years, starting at age 50.

Subjects who consistently reported sleeping six hours or less per night were about 30% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia about 30 years later, compared to subjects who slept seven hours per night.

The results take into account other factors that may influence the risk of dementia, such as smoking, diet, education, weight, physical inactivity and various health problems.

“What’s interesting about this study is that it started very early, at age 50, probably before the neurodegenerative disease started to have its effects in the brain, which gives us the impression that we are starting to touch on what could provoke it. Said Professor Sylvie Belleville, from the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM). “This is a very interesting and important aspect of the study.”

Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease, begin to manifest 15 to 20 years before the first physical symptoms appear, experts say.

When faced with a 75-year-old Alzheimer’s patient who sleeps poorly, for example, it can be very difficult to determine whether poor sleep is partly responsible for the onset of the disease, or whether it is the disease that is causing the problems. sleep.

This new study does not answer all the questions, but it is a very useful contribution to the debate, adds Dr Thanh Dang-Vu, founder and director of the Sleep, Cognition and Neuroimaging Research Laboratory.

“It’s another brick in the building that confirms the fact that sleep is important and can be a significant risk factor for dementia,” he said.


A low level of education, as well as health problems like hypertension or diabetes have all been associated with an increased risk of dementia.

A study published in The Lancet recently suggested that eliminating certain risk factors could reduce the number of dementia cases worldwide by 40%.

However, this new British study highlights a very interesting fact, notes Sylvie Belleville: all risk factors, including lack of sleep, correspond to a comparable relative risk.

“People often ask us what they should be working on to reduce their risk of dementia,” she said. “It’s not clear if there is one item that stands out. It obviously depends on your personal risk. If you sleep well you don’t need to work on it. If you are sedentary you might want to. to be working on it, but what we’re seeing is that there isn’t one thing that stands out, probably because the disease is very complex. “

She adds that there may be other unidentified causes that could cause dementia, so the debate remains open.

It has been shown that during sleep some of the proteins that eventually form the plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease are removed from the brain. In theory, this means that insufficient sleep could prevent this type of “cleaning” from happening properly.

“But we have to be realistic and accept that sleep is not the only factor linked to dementia,” Vu said. “Although he is probably partly responsible for the problem.”

Could improving sleep quality reduce the risk of dementia?

“The question remains unanswered,” he notes. “It’s a modifiable risk factor that could be helpful in preventing disease, but it’s yet to be proven.”

Vu makes a comparison with smoking: Not all smokers suffer from cardiovascular disease, and not all non-smokers will be spared from these types of health problems.

“Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference,” Vu admits.

The two experts agree on the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle for physical and mental health: eat well, be active and sleep well.

“This is the message we need to get across. Sleep is one of the lifestyle habits that must be taken into account to promote optimal health,” Vu concluded.

– This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 14, 2021.

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