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  • Writer's pictureDr. Romi Fung, ND

Sleeping to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

We all know how challenging it can be to think clearly and function at our best when we are sleep deprived. Our cognitive and physical health requires sleep to repair itself and research now suggests getting adequate sleep may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).

In 2019, a research team analyzed cognitive performance, brain imaging, and cerebrospinal fluid AD biomarkers while monitoring participant’s sleep. The authors found that a reduction in non-rapid eye movement (NREM), which occurs during the first 30-60 minutes of sleep, is correlated with higher tau and amyloid proteins in several brain areas. These two types of proteins are often found in excess with AD and interestingly, NREM is known to help to form long-term memories.

Additional research continues to show an overwhelming amount of evidence that indicates sleep disturbance contributes to cognitive decline. One reason for this, is when we are lacking restorative sleep, it increases systemic inflammation and has been found to increase beta amyloid in the brain. Chronic inflammation is also associated with heart disease and diabetes, both now linked to an increased risk for dementia. It’s important to know, having these proteins build up in the brain does not necessarily mean someone will develop AD; however, some people may be more susceptible than others.

It is easy to see residents with AD, such as in Long Term Care, have had disturbed circadian rhythms. This meant it was common for them to sleep during the day and/or be awake during the night. While sleep disturbances are clinically viewed as a consequence of AD; this new research helps us understand that earlier sleep problems may have played a role in their disease progression.

The cause and effect relationship between sleep and AD needs further research, but there is still evidence to support that 7-9 hours of sleep can be memory protective. Many things can impact our circadian rhythm including our home and sleep environment, shift work, diet, lifestyle and our unique biology. There are also normal changes to sleep patterns that can occur as we age, like needing more time to fall asleep once in bed and reduced hours of sleep, so it’s important to determine if the changes are normal or not. If you aren’t getting the recommended hours of rest, are having difficulty falling or remaining asleep; ask your doctor for an assessment to determine causes and interventions specific for you.

Sometimes it seems our culture encourages bragging about how little sleep we function on; have you ever lied and said you weren’t sleeping when the phone rang? I dream that we can all proudly say, “Yes, I was sleeping and letting my body heal itself” and to hear the response: “Wonderful, I should do the same!” Let’s start and see what happens.

How have you improved your sleep? Share your success stories with us below.

Dr. Romi Fung, ND, M.Sc and Alaina King, M.Sc

Dr. Romi Fung, ND, M.Sc is a Naturopathic Physician practicing in Richmond, BC with clinical interests in working with patients living with dementia. Dr. Romi has completed additional training in the Bredesen Protocol for treating cognitive impairment, as well as graduate studies in Aging and Health. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Aging and Health from Queen's University and is an Adjunct Clinic Faculty at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine - Boucher Campus.

Alaina has a MSc in Aging & Health and is the owner of Grey Matters Tx. A registered professional Recreation Therapist and Certified Dementia Practitioner, Alaina has been working with older adults with dementia since 1998. In addition to Recreation Therapy, Alaina has worked in Community Patient Care Coordination and as a Staff Educator and Health & Safety Auditor in Long Term Care.

Medical Disclaimer: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice, or delay in seeking it, because of something you have read on this post.


Irwin, M., & Vitiello, M. (2019). Implications of sleep disturbance and inflammation for Alzheimer’s disease dementia. The Lancet Neurology 18(3), 296-306. Doi: 10.1016/S1474-4422(18)30450-2

Lucey, B., et al. (2019). Reduced non-rapid eye movement sleep is associated with tau pathology in early Alzheimer’s disease. Science Translational Medicine 11(474). DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aau6550

Shi, L., et al. (2018). Sleep disturbances increase the risk of dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Reviews (40). 4-16, DOI: 10.1016/j.smrv.2017.06.010

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