Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Wisdom Wednesday: Do Fewer Nightly Dreams Mean Higher Dementia Risk in Seniors?
Seniors who spend less time each night in the dream stage of sleep may be more likely to succumb to dementia as they age, new research suggests.
Known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, this critical phase “occurs in intervals throughout the night, and is characterized by more dreaming and rapid eye movements,” explained study author Matthew Pase. He is a senior research fellow with Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, and a visiting researcher in the department of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine.
“We found that persons experiencing less REM sleep over the course of a night displayed an increased risk of developing dementia in the future” Pase said. He noted that for every 1% drop in REM sleep, the seniors in his study was their dementia and Alzheimer’s disease go up by about 9%.
While prior research has pointed to the REM-dementia link, the current investigation is the first to link less REM sleep to a higher risk for developing dementia up to 18 years down the road. And that, said Pase, means that “changes in REM sleep may not simply be a consequence of dementia,” but rather a contributing cause.
Pase’s study focused on 321 men and women aged 60 and up (average age 67) who had participated in the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) between 1995 and 1998. The research team first tracked the sleep cycle of the men and women over the course of a single night. All the patients were then tracked for signs of dementia for up to 19 years (12 years, on average). Ultimately 32 participants developed dementia. Twenty-four of those people developed Alzheimer’s.
The investigators concluded that deep sleep patterns had no bearing on dementia risk. But REM patterns did. Those for whom REM comprised 20% of their total sleep did not go on to develop dementia. But that number fell to 17% of overall sleep among those who did develop dementia.
Even after adjusting for other factors – including heart disease risk, depression and medication routines – the team concluded that those who spent less time in REM and/or took longer to actually enter into the REM phase, faced a greater risk for dementia.
The findings were published online Aug. 23 in the journal Neurology.
We all sleep in a series of sessions each lasting about 90 minutes. During the first two sessions we spend most of our time in deep sleep with very little dreaming – when we first fall asleep and just before waking up. Deep sleep is restorative to the physical body and we only need three hours per night.
The rest of the night we remain in the REM stages of sleep. REM sleep is required to rejuvenate the brain. So the loss of REM sleep is probably a significant contributing cause of dementia.
I have written frequently about the correlation between a good night’s sleep and a variety of chronic health conditions. I ask all my new patients about their sleep habits.
The Bottom Line:
If you suffer from maintenance insomnia, especially if it occurs after the first three hours of sleep, you have diminished REM sleep. Please do not ignore this symptom. Try to avoid medication and/or melatonin as they are generally ineffective at increasing REM sleep. Instead, consult with a qualified nutritionist. Chase Tree is my herb of choice for sleep issues but the adrenal adaptogens like Ashwaganda and Schisandra can also be effective.
Source: August 23, 2017 National Institutes of Health