4 News Now Q&A: Can a lack of sleep raise your risk of developing dementia?

Q: Can a lack of sleep raise your risk of developing dementia? 

A: A new study on sleep and memory loss has many people questioning the amount of shut-eye they get a night. A lack of it can increase your risk of developing dementia, especially if you are middle age.

The study was published on Tuesday in the journal “Nature Communications.”

Researchers followed about 8,000 people in England for more than 25 years, starting when they were 50-years-old. They found people who slept six or fewer hours a night on a regular basis, between the ages of 50, 60 and 70, were 30 percent more likely to develop dementia, compared to people who typically got seven hours of sleep a night.

The study does not definitively answer the chicken-or-egg question: whether poor sleep causes dementia, or dementia causes poor sleep.

How much sleep people should get is not a one-size-fits-all answer either.

The CDC recommends infants and toddlers should get between 11 and 16 hours of sleep per night, depending on age; elementary school children should get between nine and 12 hours; teenagers should get eight to 10 hours; and adults 18 and older should get at least seven hours of sleep every night.

Getting enough sleep, and getting a good night’s sleep, can be tough for many people, though. Some steps you take before bed can be a big help.

“Give yourself the best chance of getting a good night’s sleep. That includes things like keeping a good routine. We call this your ‘sleep hygiene’,” ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton said. “Make your bedroom cold, dark and quiet. Remove anything with a screen, get exercise and definitely avoid anything that we know to be a sleep disrupter: caffeine, large meals and alcohol before bed.”

At this point, science has no sure-fire way to prevent dementia, but experts say focusing on your sleep hygiene can reduce your risk.

What are you curious about today? Send us your questions, and we’ll go to the experts to track down the answers.