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Insomnia can lead to dementia

Updated on January 3, 2015

Insomnia is characterized by a difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep or waking up too early in the morning, even though one has the chance to sleep. Insomnia can either be acute or chronic. Acute insomnia is of a brief duration and is experienced by most of us. It tends to resolve without treatment. But chronic insomnia is a sleep disruption occurring at least three nights per week and lasting for at least three months. Chronic insomnia may be associated with a co-morbid medical condition. The effects of insomnia include fatigue, low energy, poor concentration, mood disturbance and decreased performance in work or at school.

Insomnia is a common sleep problem with adults. Statistically, it is estimated that roughly 30 percent of the general population complains of sleep disruption, and approximately 10 percent have associated symptoms of daytime functional impairment consistent with the diagnosis of insomnia.

Dementia broadly comprises of conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, Parkinson's disease, Huntingdon's disease, alcohol-related dementia, AIDS-related dementia and Creutzfeldt-Jakob (or Prion) disease. Dementia is characterized by progressive loss of cognitive powers like memory, social skills and compromised normal emotional reactions. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Problem sleep can be an early indicator of dementia in elderly adults.

Insomnia and dementia –

There is a close relationship between insomnia and dementia because people with dementia tend to have poor sleep and people with insomnia tend to be more likely to develop dementia. The following observations testify to the fact that there exists a direct association between insomnia and dementia -

  • It has been found that Alzheimer's patients often see changes in their sleep patterns early in their diseases since what had been 20 minute daytime naps stretch to several hours.
  • It has been found that severe sleep apnea is directly correlated to induction of severe dementia and vice versa. Even though sleep apnea does not directly cause dementia, persistent hypoxic conditions, causing sleep disruptions can amplify dementia.
  • A recent study suggests that there exists a link between sleep deprivation and increased risk for Alzheimer's because the levels of amyloid-beta protein in the bloodstream rise during waking periods and decline during sleep. This protein makes up some of the brain plaques that Alzheimer's patients seem to have. The scientists have found that when increased plaques of amyloid-beta protein are removed from the brain of the mice subjected to sleep deprivation in experiments, their sleep returns to the normal.

Inference –

Since 30 percent of the general population complains of sleep disruption, the importance of promotion of good sleep cannot be overlooked. Treatment of the late-life sleep disturbance will prevent or slow down progression of the dementia in older adults. This will have a substantial effect on the independence and quality of life of older adults with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. It will also reduce the healthcare costs of such patients.

The research about the amyloid-beta deposition in the brain and its relation with the dementia continues further. But, nevertheless, it becomes necessary to cultivate good sleep habits to avoid insomnia. The adjustment of other medications and treatment of any medical condition associated with it need be done sufficiently to alleviate insomnia. If these measures fail, drug therapy with educational, behavioral and cognitive approaches should be instituted.


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