Sleep and Dementia – The First Line of Defense Against Alzheimer’s and Dementia

It’s not uncommon for people to have trouble with sleep and dementia. These two problems are very closely intertwined. Yet, sleep is so critical that it can be one of the first things to fall apart when experiencing the onset of dementia and one of the easiest things to restructure.

Sleep is based on the circadian rhythms of the body. In the 24-hour cycle, we reflect the light from the sun and use it to coordinate all the body’s physical and mental processes. It’s most important to sleep, as we are programmed to sleep during the night and be awake during the day.

But, dementia throws off the cycle, influencing hormones, digestion, and your ability to recognize what time of day it actually is.

Following The Natural Cycle of Sleep For Better Health

Your body follows the cycle of light and dark as you go through the day. It helps dictate what hormones to produce at what time. Many people know that as the sun sets, melatonin, the sleep hormone, is produced at a much greater concentration than during the rest of the day.

You’ll also find that your serotonin and dopamine levels are influenced by the cycle of light and dark. Dopamine, in particular, is produced more during sunshine hours. You’ll find yourself happiest in the morning hours, as the light emerges and brings forth the day.

Your hunger and satiety hormones of ghrelin and leptin are determined by the cycle of light and dark. Many people find themselves hungry when they wake up because the body begins producing ghrelin when we’re first exposed to light. Our body focuses more on leptin in the dark, which tells us we feel full and content. Ghrelin also influences healthy sleep, so people with dementia should not graze, but eat healthily, timed meals.

The cycles change throughout the year, with summertime shortening the sleep cycles and wintertime extending them. It’s quite common for people to sleep more in the winter than in the summer.

Dementia disrupts some of these hormonal tendencies. Your loved one may start to stay up later and find their eating habits changed as dementia sets in and disrupts the hormones.

If you do start to notice this in your loved ones, you should take steps as soon as possible to help them readjust to a healthy sleeping schedule.

What Sleep Does For Your Brain

Aside from your hormones changing during sleep, several processes require sleep to keep the brain healthy.

You’ll find that your experiences and memories form better with healthy sleep. That’s because, during sleep, your brain focuses on transferring short-term memories into long-term storage. The delicate balance between deep, restful sleep, and REM sleep is essential. Being too exhausted or not tired enough can disrupt this balance.

The fact is, when people with dementia sleep in the afternoon, they disrupt the brain’s ability to transfer memories from short-term to long-term. The body is not resting deep enough or long enough at any one time to adequately transfer memories. A short nap, approximately 20 minutes, can help rejuvenate the body and clear the mind without disrupting the night’s sleep.

Another significant factor is the glymphatic system. Most people have never heard of this because it’s been recently discovered. There are macroscopic waste clearance systems within the central nervous system that use a series of specific pathways unique to the nervous system. It helps clear out soluble proteins and metabolites that can clog up the brain and affect memory formation.

A particular note, this system specifically clears out neurotoxic waste products, some of which are known to inhibit memory formation. Preliminary research shows that inhibition of this brain’s specific function may be an indicator of neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia.

Researchers have found that the glymphatic system functions mainly during sleep, while being mostly inactive during wakefulness. All the researchers have yet to determine which particular rest is optimal for the system to operate, as it is noted that in traumatic brain injury and unconscious physical states, the system is mostly unresponsive.

It ties in with the brain-derived neurotrophic factor or abrineurin. This protein works with our nerves, central nervous system, and peripheral nervous system to help keep neurons healthy and produce new ones. It’s a critical factor in forming long-term memories. As your brain typically creates long-term memory at night, this protein is vital at that time.

Your Health Depends on Good Sleep

Having covered some of the brain’s issues that deal with sleep and dementia, and there are also a few other effects that go on in your body.

Here’s the thing to keep in mind:

Every study has shown that adequate sleep reduces the effect of nearly every health condition. It’s not just your brain health that benefits.

Even if you’ve already known that the body regenerates during sleep, you may not have known all the details, and that’s okay. Learning about this can help improve your health and the health of the ones you love.

Let’s look at a couple of other health issues:

Particularly crucial to women, bone development occurs mostly during sleep.

Most detoxification happens at night, with a lymphatic system having an easier time flow as we lay prone. As many of the digestive processes decrease, our liver and kidneys can better filter out toxins from our blood.

Additionally, our immune system gets a chance to work along some pathways while others take a break. The rest in the recharge cycle, sleep helps enhance the immune system’s productivity, reducing infection, and keeping us healthy.


The truth of the matter is sleep and dementia go hand in hand. Sleep is particularly important for everyone, not just people who have dementia. But, people who have dementia can help preserve their brain function by getting adequate sleep at the right time. We have resources to help you and your loved ones sleep better and more productively above.