Many papers have linked sleep and dementia. Forgetfulness or memory lapse is an early symptom of dementia. Most people delay seeking care as ‘forgetfulness’ is seen as an accepted part of aging and not noticed by the person themselves.

Theories linking poor sleep and memory issues include (i) memory malformation due to lack of slow-wave sleep in sleep apnea1, and (ii) brain protein accumulation and plaque formation2 in insomnia. However, just because there is a correlation between sleep and dementia does not mean poor sleep causes dementia. Science is messy Proving causality over correlation is not easy i.e., ‘many people with dementia have sleep issues’ (correlation) versus ‘sleep issues cause dementia’ (causality).

A study1 appears to go beyond proving causality, providing strong evidence that treating the underlying sleep disorder, obstructive sleep apnea, improves memory issues in 3 months.

This should provide comfort that memory issues are not an unavoidable part of growing older, instead fixable – in the right hands. As sleep medicine is a relatively new field of study, primary care providers or specialists will likely order an MRI or CT of the Brain and bloodwork or prescribe medications and supplements. Neurologists or psychiatrists may not focus on sleep as a possible cause of dementia, instead treating poor sleep as a result of dementia.

Without recognizing poor sleep as a contributing factor to dementia risks worsening memory issues which then leads to more testing and polypharmacy. Ask your provider if sleep could be the issue or talk to a sleep specialist online.

Please allow us to help you or a loved one sleep better – with fewer medications and fewer missing keys.

Breathe well, sleep soundly.

Written by: Avinesh S Bhar, MD

About the author

Dr. Bhar is fellowship-trained and board-certified in sleep, critical care and pulmonary medicine. He has been in practice for over seven years and established a telemedicine practice founded on personalized, convenient, and cost-effective sleep and pulmonary care.

At Sliiip, our pulmonary and sleep telemedicine practice allows for video consultation, diagnosis, and follow up care – from the comfort of anywhere. Our online sleep doctor, Dr. Bhar, believes that high-quality care only comes from a trustful physician-patient relationship.

To find out more about our services simply visit our website, or call 478-238-3552.

  1. Ina E Djonlagic, M.D., Atul Malhotra, M.D. et al. CPAP Restores Declarative Memory Deficit in Obstructive Sleep Apnea. American Thoracic Society. 10.1164/rccm.202011-4253LE
  2. Sadeghmousavi, S., Eskian, M., Rahmani, F. et al.The effect of insomnia on development of Alzheimer’s disease. J Neuroinflammation 17289 (2020).