How many hours do you sleep at night? Many people find that when they are ill or stressed, a good night of sleep can do a world of good to help your body heal.

It’s recommended that 7-9 hours of sleep is ideal for a person to feel truly rested. But is it possible that getting too much sleep could be a sign of negative effects in your brain?

The Framingham Heart Study suggests that there may be a connection. This study began in 1948 with 5209 participants from a single town, and is currently in its third generation of participation.

This study was a long-term ongoing cardiovascular study on residents of the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. Though it’s main focus was heart health, research also analyses the participants brain health.

This research suggests that people who sleep more than nine hours a night, and had not done so regularly in the past, had double the risk of developing dementia in the next ten years.

It was also seen that those who slept longer had smaller brain volumes. This increased risk, however, was not seen in people who had always slept nine hours or more.

A change in sleeping pattern, as this Boston University School of Medicine research suggests, is not the cause for dementia but rather a marker for the risk of the dementia. Meaning that a change in sleep patterns will not affect the risk and change the likelihood of developing dementia.

Previous research concluded that too much sleep, and even too little sleep, has a connection with dementia. That study suggested that missing out on deep non-REM sleep may allow Beta-amyloid, a protein found in those who have Alzheimer’s, to access the brain and create plaque around it.

As this protein plaque accumulates, it further inhibits the person’s ability to sleep and creates a negative sleep cycle which has been linked to dementia.

It’s not just sleep that plays a role – education also makes a difference. Participants who did not have a high school degree and who slept for more than 9 hours each night had six times the risk of developing dementia within the next 10 years as compared to participants who slept for less.

Another study also supports this education idea, suggesting that the more time spent in education, the lower the risk of developing dementia. Education during a person’s younger years appears to help them cope with changes in their brain before showing dementia symptoms. Being highly educated also appears to act a protection against dementia during long durations of sleep.

Keeping track of your, or a loved one’s, sleep pattern may be useful in predicting a person’s risk of developing dementia, and may warrant assessment and monitoring for other problems, such as cognition and memory issues.

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