BENGALURU: With increasing age, sleeping issues become a serious concern. Apart from several other health problems, disturbances in sleeping pattern are directly linked with the risk of dementia. This is a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning. The relationship between poor sleep and dementia is mostly observed to be two-way. While some researchers believe that inadequate sleep may put one at a greater risk of dementia, some others have noticed it to be the other way around -- dementia leads to poor sleep.
Light sleep disorders
Dementia is often closely linked with light sleep disorders, a type of sleep disorder that is referred to as rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder (RBD). This results in people moving or talking in their sleep. Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB), a kind of dementia that shares common symptoms with both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is commonly associated with light sleep disorder. Studies reveal that light sleep disorders are early indicators of dementia with lewy bodies among male senior citizens. Other studies suggest that the damaged brain in case of dementia with lewy bodies may also result in light sleep disorders.
Sleep-wake cycle disorders
Alzheimer’s disease is also linked with another kind of sleep disorder known as sleep-wake cycle disorders. The sleep-wake cycle is the 24-hour cycle that the body experiences every day that ensures that we are active during the day and sleepy at night. When there is a disruption in this cycle, issues like wakefulness at night, problems falling asleep and staying asleep or drowsiness and unusual napping during the day crop up. Such disturbances are associated with Alzheimer’s as well as Parkinson’s disease.
Studies suggest that the link between sleep-wake cycle disorder and Alzheimer’s may be because of amyloid, the hallmark protein of Alzheimer’s. Increased amyloid is mostly found among those with Alzheimer’s and could be directly linked with poor sleep quality. It could also be associated with problems with storing memories while we sleep, highlighting that inadequate sleep may impact the body’s ability to flush out toxic amyloid protein from the brain.
Sleep disordered breathing
Those with sleep disordered breathing are found to be more prone to cognitive decline and impairment and at a greater risk of developing dementia. Sleep disordered breathing occurs when one faces difficulty in breathing while sleeping, is referred to as sleep apnea and is commonly seen among obese older adults. Sleep disordered breathing may damage the brain due to the alterations in the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood. It can also alter the flow of blood to the brain. It has been thereby observed that improvement in sleeping pattern may lower the risk of dementia. (The author is a senior ENT surgeon, airway and sleep apnea specialist, Sakra World Hospital)
Ways to improve sleep
Sleep and get up at the same time: This helps in setting the body’s internal clock and optimises quality of sleep. One must sleep when normally
tired and wake up without an alarm clock.
Do not sleep in: In case you want to make up for a late night, go for a daytime nap instead of sleeping in.
Do not nap for long: Limit napping for only 15 to 20 minutes in the early noon.
Control exposure to light: Expose yourself to bright sunlight in the morning, spend time outdoors during the daylight, let natural light seep indoors, avoid late-night bright screens within 1 to 2 hours of bedtime.
Exercise during the day: The more one remains physically active during the day, the better sleep one gets at night.