Poor Quality Sleep Could Lead To Brain Changes And Dementia, Study Finds

Study Finds Disturbing Link Between Sleep Problems And Dementia

It's bad enough being one of the millions of people suffering from sleep-disturbing conditions like emphysema and sleep apnea, waking up tired or having your spouse complain about your loud snoring. Now a new study reveals even scarier effects of not getting enough quality sleep.

Findings unveiled today in the journal Neurology, links the effects of sleep disturbances to brain changes that could lead to dementia later in life. Researchers looked at a cohort of 167 Japanese-American men with an average age of 84, following the mens' sleep patterns from the start of the study until their death, an average of six years later.

They found that lower blood oxygen levels at night, due to sleep disturbances, made men more likely to have harmful brain changes. The men with the lowest levels of blood oxygen were four times as likely to have brain abnormalities than men with higher levels. Those who had less deep sleep, or "slow wave sleep," were also more likely to have lost brain cells.

"These findings suggest that low blood oxygen levels and reduced slow wave sleep may contribute to the processes that lead to cognitive decline and dementia," study author Rebecca P. Gelber of the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System said in a release. "More research is needed to determine how slow wave sleep may play a restorative role in brain function and whether preventing low blood oxygen levels may reduce the risk of dementia."

Various studies have cautioned of the negative effects of lack of quality sleep on the brain. A Temple University study found that mice who were sleep deprived showed more plaques and tangles in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer's, as well as memory problems, in just eight weeks. Another study found that in older men, sleep disturbances increased the risk of Alzheimer's by up to 50 percent.

The researchers say that more studies could show whether or not getting more quality sleep or increasing blood oxygen levels could actually have the reverse effect on brain changes. Until then, let's all try to get a better night's rest.

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