How's Your Sleep?

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Do you have sleep problems? If you’re answering ‘yes’, you’re certainly not alone!

Women often experience disturbed sleep during the perimenopausal years, and, by the age of 60, almost half say their sleep is a problem, at least from time to time.  

Usually, this is just occasional sleeplessness — maybe caused by a work deadline, or a noisy neighbour, or a headache, or too much coffee, etc. etc. The woman feels tired, but, eventually her mind-body rebalances, and she’s back to regular restorative sleep again. 

But if her sleep problems persist, they can become a habit without a cause.

In this way, she develops a chronic sleep problem, even a diagnosed sleep disorder. Over time, this can affect her overall health too.  

Recent research shows that our cardiovascular and immune systems are sensitive to sleep problems — but most alarming is the effect of sleep disturbance on brain health.

Here’s some rather startling research published recently.

A 2018 review [1] collected the findings of 18 published research papers (nearly 250,000 subjects). Researchers discovered that chronic sleep problems are linked to increased risk for dementia. “Compared with individuals without sleep disturbances, subjects who reported sleep disturbances had a higher risk of incident all-cause dementia.” 

In 2019, the prestigious journal, Lancet Neurology, [2] concluded “Accumulating evidence shows that sleep disturbance contributes to cognitive decline and might also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease dementia”. 

In 2020, a study from the Journal of the American Medical Association [3] also linked sleep problems to increased risk of cognitive decline. That study looked at the effect of sleep duration — extremes of sleeping 4 hours or less per night, or 10 hours or more, were associated with faster cognitive decline.

And another study, published in 2018, [4] showed that long ‘sleep latency’ (difficulty falling asleep) is associated with subsequent cognitive decline. However this smaller study will need future confirmation.

Another risk is in the long-term use of sleep medication. A 2012 study [5] reported: “Patients with long-term use of hypnotics [sleep medication] have more than a 2-fold increased risk of dementia, especially those aged 50 to 65 years.” 

All this sounds serious, doesn’t it? This research surprised me too! 

Sleep problems are much more than an inconvenience — they risk the brain’s health. Chronic sleep disturbance deserves our most careful attention. 

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[1] Sleep disturbances increase the risk of dementia/ A systematic review and meta-analysis; Le Shi, Si-Jing Chen et al  Sleep Med Rev. 2018 Aug;40:4-16.  PMID: 28890168

[2] Implications of sleep disturbance and inflammation for Alzheimer’s disease dementia; Michael R Irwin, et al; Lancet Neurol 2019; 18: 296–306 Published Online January 17, 2019; PMID 30661858

[3]  Association Between Sleep Duration and Cognitive Decline;  Yanjun Ma,  et al; JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Sep; 3(9)Published online 2020 Sep 21. PMID: 32955572

[4] Sleep and Cognitive Decline: A Prospective Nondemented Elderly Cohort Study;  Seung Wan Suh, MD, et al; ANN NEUROL 2018;83:472–482;  PMID: 29394505

[5] Risk of Dementia in Patients with Insomnia and Long- term Use of Hypnotics: A Population-based Retrospective Cohort Study; Pin-Liang Chen, et al; PLOS ONE |November 2012 | Volume 7 | Issue 11 | PMID: 23145088