Dreaming helps combat dementia, study finds

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Lack of “dreaming” sleep is linked to a higher risk of developing dementia, a study has found.

The finding is based on data from a US sleep study involving 321 participants over the age of 60 whose progress was monitored for 12 years.

Every percentage reduction in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – the sleep phase during which most dreaming occurs – was associated with a 9% higher chance of developing any type of dementia and an 8% greater risk of Alzheimer’s.

Lead researcher Dr Matthew Pase, from Boston University School of Medicine in the US, said: “Different stages of sleep may differentially affect key features of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our findings implicate REM sleep mechanisms as predictors of dementia.”

While it is common for dementia patients to suffer disturbed sleep, whether this is a result of the condition or plays a role in causing it remains unclear.

Earlier this year the same team found that people who regularly sleep more than nine hours per night are twice as likely to develop dementia as people who sleep fewer hours.

The new research appears in the journal Neurology.

Dr Alison Evans, from the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We know that brain changes in diseases like Alzheimer’s can begin in the brain over a decade before symptoms start to show, and it is impossible to tell from this study whether disturbed REM sleep could be causing increased dementia risk or whether it’s an early consequence of disease processes already under way in the brain.

“It is also possible that REM sleep may be disturbed as a result of stress, a factor that has previously been linked to an increased risk of dementia.

“Larger studies involving more detailed testing will be necessary to better understand the complex relationship between sleep and dementia, and help us to understand why people who go on to develop dementia tend to have less REM sleep.”

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