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Defy Dementia Episode 8: Sleep Solutions for a Sharp Mind

Join podcast co-hosts Dr. Allison Sekuler and Jay Ingram for Defy Dementia Episode 8 as they unravel the intricate connection between sleep and dementia. Meet Mary Hynes, a retired special education teacher who leads an active, brain-healthy life but continues to struggle with her sleep. Then, hear from Dr. Andrew Lim, a sleep expert from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the University of Toronto, to learn how poor quality sleep may affect brain health and increase dementia risk. Don’t miss this fascinating new episode for practical strategies to help you keep your mind sharp.


Key takeaways

  1. Poor quality sleep can physically affect your brain. It can increase inflammation, harden the brain’s arteries, disrupt the brain’s ability to get rid of waste and toxins, and change neural connections, all of which can increase your dementia risk.
  2. It’s important to spend time outdoors and get natural light to set your internal body clock.
  3. Having a regular pre-sleep routine will help your body prepare for a good night’s sleep.
  4. Some sleep conditions may require medical attention. See your doctor if your sleep problems persist.

Key highlights

Allison: “Scientists are still trying to answer some fundamental questions – questions like, ‘Does poor sleep actually cause dementia?’ Or, on the other hand, ‘Is poor sleep an early symptom of dementia?’ But there’s some evidence that trying to get a good night's sleep is probably a good idea for everyone.”
Jay: “Recently researchers at the Harvard Medical School compiled health data from nearly three thousand people sixty-five and older. […] Compared to subjects who slept the normal amount, defined as between six and eight hours, people who slept less than five hours a night were twice as likely to develop dementia.”
Mary: “I mean, it's frustrating to fall asleep. You're exhausted. Tumble into bed. Go to sleep, and you're wide awake an hour later or half an hour later or two hours later. It's horrible.”
Andrew: “We took a look at older folks in whom we measured sleep using a fancier version of the Fitbits that you can get commercially. And then we took a look at their brain […]. What we found was that adults who woke up very frequently had a much higher level of inflammation in their brains, and that this inflammation in turn was associated with poorer memory.”



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Practical tips: 
More information about the link between sleep and dementia:
Studies on sleep and dementia:

Learn more about our guests

Mary Hynes is an 80-year-old, retired special education teacher who enjoys volunteering as an older subject in various research studies. Until a few months ago she was a graduate student at the University of Toronto studying older adult health self-management, but she says she dropped out because at her age she has “other plans.” Next year, she wants to travel to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago, which is around 600 km in length. Since leaving university, she has increased her community work in the health and aging field. Mary says that she “tries to live her belief in older adult health management through risk reduction and a healthy lifestyle.” She also uses a fresh food delivery service to ensure she always has fruits and vegetables available to prepare healthy meals. When not physically active, she enjoys building Lego models and dabbling in art projects.
Dr. Andrew Lim is the Principal Investigator of the Ontario Sleep Health Study. He is a scientist in the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Research Program at Sunnybrook Research Institute, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Toronto (U of T), and a neurologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. He completed medical degree and residency in neurology at U of T, a clinical sleep fellowship at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and a master’s degree in clinical investigation at Harvard Medical School. His research focuses on disorders of sleep and circadian biology. His aim is to understand how disruption of sleep and biological rhythms, as seen in conditions such as insomnia, shift work and jet lag, affect individuals’ risks for common medical disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and stroke.