Is sleep duration associated with dementia risk?


By Alex Smith | Wednesday 21 April 2021

Research led by teams in Paris and London have found that UK civil servants who regularly slept for six hours or less in middle age have a higher risk of dementia. The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

The researchers used information from the Whitehall II study, a long-term health study that recruited people working as civil servants in the 1980s.

Our expert view:

Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said:

Sara comments on morning sleep and dementia“Many of us have experienced a bad night’s sleep and probably know that it can have an impact on our memory and thinking in the short term, but an intriguing question is whether long-term sleep patterns can affect our risk of dementia.

“We know that the diseases that cause dementia start up to two decades before symptoms like memory loss start to show, so midlife is a crucial time for research into risk factors. In this study, sleep duration was largely measured through study volunteers self-reporting their sleep duration, and while this group of volunteers was not reflective of the UK population, it does offer insight into the relationship with sleep and dementia in mid to later life.

“This study cannot tease apart cause and effect and while it suggests that persistent lower sleep duration was linked with an increased risk of dementia, it did not find an association between longer than average sleep duration and dementia risk.

“While there is no sure-fire way to prevent dementia, there are things within our control that can reduce our risk. The best evidence suggests that not smoking, only drinking in moderation, staying mentally and physically active, eating a balanced diet, and keeping cholesterol and blood pressure levels in check can all help to keep our brains healthy as we age.”

Find out more?

Nature Communications: Association of sleep duration in middle and old age with incidence of dementia

Our Dementia Research Infoline team are here to answer any questions you have about the link between sleep and dementia. Give us a call on 0300 111 5 111 between 9.00-5.00pm Monday to Friday.


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Alex Smith