Harvard Health Letter

Poor sleep linked to dementia and ministrokes

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Poor sleep is linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Now a study published in Neurology Dec. 10, 2014, suggests that people with conditions that rob them of oxygen and deep sleep are more likely to have changes in the brain that may lead to dementia. Researchers say conditions such as emphysema and sleep apnea reduce the amount of oxygen in the blood during sleep, which can lead to silent, undetectable "ministrokes." Researchers also found that people who spend less time in deep sleep, called slow-wave sleep, are more likely to have loss of brain cells than people who spend more time in slow-wave sleep. Slow-wave sleep is important in processing new memories and remembering facts. The researchers noted that past evidence has shown that using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine for obstructive sleep apnea may improve cognition, even after dementia has developed. "Sleep quantity and quality are important to maintain optimal health and prevent disease," says sleep expert Dr. Lawrence Epstein, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. "By getting enough sleep, you ensure that you are getting all the types of sleep, which is necessary to maintain proper functioning." 

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