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Sleep is essential for human health. Not getting enough sleep or having poor, fragmented sleep increases a person’s risk of developing many chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression. Findings from a new study suggest that inadequate sleep increases a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are age-related disorders characterized by memory loss, cognitive decline, and behavioral changes. Nearly 50 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia worldwide, a number expected to triple by the year 2050.

The authors of the study drew on data from the National Health and Aging Trends Study, an on-going longitudinal study of adults living in the United States who are over the age of 65 years. More than 2,800 participants (average age, 76 years) completed questionnaires about their sleep quality, including time to sleep onset, sleep duration, and snoring. The authors collected information about the participants' cognitive health or death from any cause for up to five years after completion of the questionnaires.

They found that participants who reported getting fewer than five hours of sleep per night were twice as likely to develop dementia compared to those who had seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Taking a long time to fall asleep (more than 30 minutes) increased the risk of dementia 45 percent. The authors also found that getting fewer than five hours of sleep per night, daytime sleepiness, and regular napping increased the risk of all causes of premature death.

These findings indicate that short sleep duration and sleep-associated problems among older adults increase the risk of developing dementia and dying prematurely. The research of sleep expert Dr. Matthew Walker focuses on identifying certain windows of vulnerability during a person’s life when interventions might improve sleep quality to prevent or delay age-related cognitive decline. Learn more in this clip.

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