Good sleep is essential for brain health

Making changes to your sleep routine could play an important role in delaying and preventing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, according to Associate Professor Stephanie Rainey-Smith from Murdoch University and the ARA.

The Foundation is committed to deepening the understanding of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and looking for prevention and treatment strategies.

Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are not a normal part of ageing. Alzheimer’s disease is a physical brain condition that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, resulting in impaired memory, thinking and behaviour.



“A lot of people don’t understand how important sleep is. There are a lot of misperceptions around sleep and the importance of it for health,” says A/Prof Rainey-Smith.

When the body sleeps, the brain continues to work and one of the things that happens is a “cleaning out” of toxins that are known to be markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

This adds support to the idea that improving sleep could have an important role to play in slowing the rates at which these toxins are accumulating in the brain, and thus delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.

“Poor sleep has been shown to affect the brain’s house-keeping system at a molecular level,” says A/Prof Rainey-Smith.


Risk Factors

“We know that if you have poor sleep, it affects cardiovascular health, diabetes risk and other factors which are known risk factors for dementia.”

At the core of the Foundation’s research into the relationship between sleep and brain health is the Sleep Improvement Study (SIS) which is investigating links between poor sleep behaviour, memory and thinking decline and markers of brain health.

The study recruits older Australians who say they are sleeping poorly, who undergo tests to measure their memory, language, and recognition skills. They also undertake behavioural training to improve their sleep. The effect this behavioural intervention has on memory and markers of brain health has produced fascinating results.

Every piece of the puzzle is being examined in the relationship between sleep, memory, thinking skills and brain-based biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease.