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The Importance of Sleep in Relation to Dementia


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Sir Jackie Stewart OBE

As the saying goes, ‘a good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.’

The impact of sleep on physical and mental health is widely acknowledged. World Sleep Day is an annual event that celebrates the importance of sleep and raises awareness around issues related to poor sleep. Did you know that there is a strong link between sleep and dementia?

Research over the years has identified the relationship between a poor night’s sleep in a person’s midlife and dementia in their later life. There can be many reasons for interrupted sleep, including insomnia, working shifts, stress and caretaking responsibilities. In one study, Dr Andrew E. Budson of Harvard Medical School found that individuals who slept fewer than five hours per night were twice as likely to develop dementia.” In a second study, Dr Budson said sleeping six hours or less at age 50, 60, and 70 was associated with a 30% increase in dementia risk compared to a normal sleep duration of seven hours.”

Race Against Dementia Associate Fellow, Dr Rahel Park, highlights that sleep-disordered breathing has been linked with up to 90% of idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus cases, which Dr Park is focusing on for her research project. “This is a huge number and should not be overlooked in studies that try better to understand this disorder,” says Dr Park.

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“Prioritising good sleep habits is crucial”

Race Against Dementia’s research team also includes Dr Christy Hung at University College, London, who is exploring how genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease disrupt the brain’s disposal system. Dr Hung explains:

“Prioritising good sleep habits is crucial for maintaining optimal brain health and function. Chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to impair cognitive function, including memory, attention and decision-making, which may be related to the impaired disposal of waste products in the brain.”

Dr Andrew McKinnon, a Race Against Dementia Fellow and clinical neuropsychologist at Sydney University, who became interested in dementia research due to the limited effectiveness of existing interventions and the lack of curative treatments of the condition, said:

“Approximately one-third of Alzheimer’s Disease cases are attributable to modifiable risk factors. My research focuses on further identifying and delineating these factors, with a particular focus on sleep-wake disturbance. Comprehensive understanding of the contribution of sleep to dementia risk will not only advance understanding of crucial underlying biological mechanisms, but will also inform clinical diagnostics at varying stages of cognitive decline.”

Good sleep habits are essential for optimal brain health and function. The link between sleep and dementia is becoming increasingly clear. Prioritising sleep and addressing any underlying sleep disturbances can potentially reduce the risk of developing dementia.

To learn more about what our Race Against Dementia Research Fellows and Associates are working on, follow the link.

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Dementia impacts memory, thinking and behaviour and includes several types of cognitive decline, such as Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia.


The Race Against Dementia Fellowship Programme funds and supports the world’s most promising scientific talent. We back promising research projects that will accelerate progress towards a cure and treatment.


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