The benefits of sleep are common knowledge to most, however, that doesn’t stop many people from not getting as much of it as they should based on their hectic lifestyles. Not only will sound sleep allow you to be more alert, make better split-second decisions, and also improve stress management, but it may also be deeply tied to preventing challenging, life altering illnesses. A recent study found that there may be a correlation between those who get less REM (rapid eye movement) sleep during the night and those who are at greater risk of developing dementia.
There are five different stages of sleep. The first stage is light sleep, and the second stage is when the body prepares itself to transition into a deeper sleep – which continues to stages three and four. The final and fifth stage is referred to as REM sleep. This is also known as the dream stage where the process of dreaming occurs.
Certain things happen in the last and final stage of sleep that don’t during the others, such as elevated body temperature, quickened pulse and faster breathing. Typically the REM stage occurs about an hour to an hour and a half into the sleeping process and will occur numerous times throughout the night cycle. Certain people experience interruption in their sleep patterns or specific disturbances that make this type of rest very difficult to achieve.
The Dementia Link
“Sleep disturbances are common in dementia but little is known about the various stages of sleep and whether they play a role in dementia risk,” explains study author Matthew P. Ease PhD. “We set out to discover which stages of sleep may be linked to dementia and while we did not find a link with deep sleep, we did with REM sleep.”
The study was compiled of over 300 individuals over the age of 67. Sleep data was compiled on each person. Thirty-two of the people were diagnosed with some type of dementia at the time with 24 who had Alzheimer’s disease. Only 17 percent of those who developed dementia spent more than 15% of their total sleep time in REM sleep. This is compared to over 20 percent of those who did not develop dementia.
The findings of the study clearly denote that REM sleep and the lack of it can be a predictor of dementia. The way that the mind works to process information, store memories and even dream is directly tied to our ability to properly rest our bodies and engage our minds, even if we do so subconsciously and without really knowing it.
So the next course of action is to determine why the lowered amount of REM sleep predicts this greater risk of dementia and find ways to intervene so that the end result isn’t as bleak and troubling. Though there were over 300 participants that took part in this study, it was shown that the sample size was a bit on the small side.
The importance of getting enough sleep, and quality sleep at that, is much more crucial than we could have previously understood. The brain is a complex and multifaceted organism and countless other studies will need to be conducted in order for us to truly understand its depth.