The Link Between Insomnia and Dementia

New research has shown a link between insomnia and the development of dementiaespecially in women.

More women than men experience insomnia – and more women than men develop dementia as well.

But, what exactly is the relationship between sleep, dementia, and women’s health? How do you lower your risk of developing dementia when the odds can sometimes feel stacked against you as a woman?

This article will walk you through the science behind insomnia and dementia – and offer suggestions on how to decrease your risk factors using a healthy sleep routine.

Read on to learn more about:

  1. The relationship between sleep and the brain
  2. The connection between sleep and dementia
  3. Menopause and healthy sleep
  4. Tips for a healthy sleep routine

The relationship between sleep and the brain

Sleeping – in addition to eating healthy foods, drinking enough water, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle – is vitally important for our overall health and development.

When you wake up feeling rested, you likely had what’s known as restorative sleep. Restorative sleep doesn’t just leave us feeling ready to tackle the day – it delivers a host of benefits, both immediate and long-term, for our brain, body and cellular function.

Some important benefits of restorative sleep include:

  • Cellular repair and regrowth
  • Proper long-term storage of memory
  • Increased attention span
  • Healthy metabolic regulation
  • Toxic waste removal in your brain
  • Improved mood

In fact, Bryce Mander, PhD, assistant professor at the University of California, who has closely reviewed the neuroscience of sleep recently reported, “there isn’t a single organ system in the body that isn’t affected detrimentally by sleep loss… If you disrupt sleep, you disrupt function everywhere. But if you can improve sleep, you might have a chance of improving everything.”

New studies demonstrate that a lack of sleep leads to cognitive decline later in life.

Yet, dysregulated sleep habits, and impaired cognitive function or brain fog, are just two of the numerous symptoms women experience due to hormonal imbalances during perimenopause – a stage all women go through during the course of their lives. Many healthcare professionals to date are dismissive of all perimenopausal symptoms – including disrupted sleep patterns – in perimenopausal and menopausal women, shrugging them off as “a normal part of this stage of life.”

Today, scientific studies have drawn new connections to women’s health, dementia, and the importance of getting enough sleep.

The connection between sleep and dementia

Sleep – that blissful time when our minds and bodies can rest, adrift on dreams – plays a huge role in our day to day lives.

According to the CDC, a “normal” amount of sleep is 7 hours in order to promote optimal health – however, 1 in 3 adults do not get the sleep they need to stay healthy.

Many adults feel that a lack of sleep is a normal part of adult life. During early adulthood, we are conditioned to believe that lack of sleep is “just what happens” as we age. Whether it’s a busy career, starting a family or caring for aging parents, many women find that sleep falls way down on the priority list.

Yet, research suggests that your sleeping habits can have an impact on your current health and wellbeing, as well as your future health as you grow older.

In fact, Dr. Andrew Huberman, neuroscientist and tenured professor at Stanford School of Medicine speaks at length about how damaging the mentality many young people have of “I’ll sleep when I die,” is to their day-to-day and long-term health.

According to psychological research, sleep plays a huge role in:

  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Stamina and energy
  • Mood regulation
  • General health and wellness

So, not only is sleep important for you to enjoy each moment throughout the days of your life, feeling a true sense of vitality, but a lack of sleep may impact your cognitive function in your later years.

According to research, adults in their 50s and 60s getting six hours of sleep or less are at greater risk of developing dementia later on.

Some studies indicate that a lack of healthy sleeping habits (at least 7 hours per night) increases your risk of developing dementia by at least 20%.

Changes to sleep patterns in people with dementia

For someone living with a loved one who may be suffering from dementia, it is important to note that a lack of sleep is a common symptom of the disease.

Adults living with dementia may experience severe insomnia and sleep interruptions regularly.

Sometimes these changes in sleeping patterns may be so pronounced that older adults living with dementia may sleep all day and be unable to sleep at night.

These sleeping patterns are also known as sundowning. Adults living with dementia may experience:

  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Pacing
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations

These behaviors may begin at dusk and continue throughout the night.

Sleep disruptions in your life while you are caring for others (children, adult parents living with dementia) can be difficult and have an impact on your own health.

If you need help managing sleep disruptions in your loved one, there are resources for caregivers that you may find helpful.

Menopause and healthy sleep

Women at every age are more likely to experience insomnia than men. Insomnia is a condition that makes it hard to fall, and/or stay asleep.

Women’s menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and perimenopause all have an impact on our ability to sleep.

As hormones begin to decrease (usually around mid to late 30s), women may start experiencing perimenopausal symptoms – a time during which these hormone fluctuations cause sleep disruptions.

Women already have a higher risk of developing dementia (including Alzheimer’s) than their male counterparts.

Research indicates a strong relationship between perimenopause and cognitive consequences, such as the development of dementia. This is likely due to the loss of sex hormones, most especially estrogen, and the flurry of symptoms women experience that also happen to be risk factors for dementia, such as sleep disturbance, changes to gut microbiome, glucose intolerance, increased stress and anxiety, inflammation, brain fog and more.

If you think you’re experiencing perimenopause, or want to know more about it, here are 6 physical signs of perimenopause to look out for in yourself or your loved ones.

Ultimately, the connection between sleep, menopause and dementia must not be overlooked. Whether you’ve struggled with sleep throughout your life, or you might be experiencing secondary insomnia due to perimenopause or the early stages of dementia, the takeaway is clear: all women deserve to do everything they can to prioritize, protect and optimize their sleep.

Tips for prioritizing and creating a healthy sleep routine

The first step to improving the length and quality of sleep you get is to make sleep one of your top priorities. If you’re looking for more motivation to prioritize the vital role sleep plays in our lives, and learn more about other relevant women’s health topics read the very first chapter of Dr. Kavita Desai’s book “Lady Parts: Putting Women’s Health Back Into Women’s Hands.”

If you’re experiencing insomnia, you may need to consider taking a three step approach to repairing your sleep:

  1. Optimizing the biological mechanics of sleep within your body using natural sleep remedies such as magnesium, l-theanine or drinking teas such as chamomile, passionflower or valerian.
  2. Supporting your mind through cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia or meditation to help change the thought patterns that may be keeping you awake at night.
  3. Improving sleep hygiene such as your post-bedtime routine and sleep environment (see more on this below).

Whether you’re experiencing insomnia or would like to improve the length and quality of your sleep, focus on creating an optimal sleep routine.

According to the CDC, there are some very simple strategies you can implement in your daily lives to help your bodies relax in the evenings, such as:

  • Keep a consistent bedtime and bedtime routine for yourself.
  • Ensure your sleeping space is dark, quiet, relaxing, and kept at a cool temperature.
  • Remove all electronic devices from your bedroom (such as phones, televisions, computers, etc).
  • Extra tip: Don’t use your phone for at least 60 minutes before bedtime to avoid stimulation and the disruptive effects of blue light, both of which can impact your sleeping routines.
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, or alcohol use several hours before bedtime.
  • Get exercise throughout the day to help your body burn off energy and prepare for sleep.

Dr. Andrew Huberman has recently been instrumental in drawing attention to the importance of timed light exposure of specific wavelengths – i.e. waking up and getting outside to expose yourself to sunlight – to improve sleep and modulate hormone levels.

Following these steps will help to encourage your mind and body to maintain healthy sleeping habits.

Learn more by reading our tips on how to sleep better at night.

Helping more women get a good night’s rest

At Revivele, we believe that every woman should be given the information they need to prioritize their health, advocate for their needs and take action to prevent the development of possible health concerns like dementia.

Not only do we keep up-to-date on the latest scientific research when it comes to women’s health, and brain health, but we are also gearing up to release our new supplement system, Essentials by Revivele, which will include a night time supplement designed to aid and improve sleep.

Stay tuned for news about our Essentials line and follow Revivele on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.