Sleep medications and Dementia

Are you getting enough sleep?  The National Sleep Foundation recommends that if you’re a newborn, you should be getting 14 to 17 hours of sleep a day.  However, if you’re a newborn you’re probably not reading this column, and if you are, I want to talk with you!

Adults aged 26-64 years should be getting between 7 and 8 hours of sleep, and 5 to 9 hours is appropriate – but if you’re always taking sleep medications to help you fall asleep, you may be increasing your risk of developing dementia.

One of the first studies exploring a connection between sleep aids and dementia was presented at the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

The study revealed that older adults who often or almost always used sleep medications were 43 percent more likely to develop dementia that those who rarely or never took such aids.

It’s important to note that while the results didn’t establish data that sleeping medications cause dementia, the study’s lead author, Yue Leng, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California San Francisco, says “People don’t really consider the long-term effects of these medications.  We want clinicians to be more cautious about prescribing them.” 

Researchers at Utah State University also looked at the link between long-term use of sleeping pills and the development of Alzheimer’s disease among a group of 3,656 adults, ages 65 and older.  They found that while results varied by gender and other factors, men in the study who used sleeping aids were 3.6 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.  More disturbing, women in the study who didn’t report issues falling asleep but instead took a sleep aid to, for instance, counter loss of sleep associated with something like chronic pain increased their Alzheimer’s risk four times over women who actually did have a history of insomnia.

The final word?  If you are having sleep problems or have questions about taking sleep aids – talk to your doctor.  

Call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900 for more information.

— Scott Finley, Manager of Media Relations - Alzheimer’s Association: Dallas and Northeast Chapter

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