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Sleep deprivation and neurological diseases: Is there a correlation?

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

Do you sleep less than 6 hours per night?

  • Consistently (6 or 7 times per week)

  • Occasionally (between 1 - 5 times per week)

  • Never

The brain consumes 25% of our energy supplies

When our organs use oxygen and sugar, waste products are produced, which need to be removed to avoid local toxicity. Usually, these waste materials are removed rapidly. However, in the brain, these waste materials are removed much more slowly [1, 2].

The brain is cleaned when we sleep

The cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) is responsible for removing waste materials and proteins from the brain. The CSF ensures that the brain is kept in a very controlled nutrient environment [2].

The proteins that CSF removes are the biomarkers that also contribute to neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease [3]. Importantly, the CSF clearance of waste products and proteins occurs primarily while we sleep and minimally during the day [2].

Thus, there is a reason why we are recommended to have at least 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

What effect does sleep deprivation have on our neurological state?

Increases risk for dementia for older patients (>50 years) [4]

  • Between the ages of 50-60 years, those who consistently sleep less than 6 hours per night are between 22-37% higher risk for developing dementia than those who sleep more than 7 hours per night [4]

  • For people aged over 75 years old, poor sleep increased the risk of all-cause dementia by 75% [5]

Increases risk for Alzheimer’s disease [6]

Therefore, not only the amount of sleep increases our risk for neurological diseases but also the quality of sleep [5-7].

Struggle to sleep at night? Here are some recommended strategies for going to sleep:

  • Develop a sleep schedule

  • Get some daily exercise

  • Avoid midday napping

  • Limit electronics before sleep

  • Avoid night-time nicotine

  • Avoid large meals and alcohol

  • Avoid lying in bed awake – go and do something relaxing

  • Visit a health practitioner if nothing seems to work

We must understand how our lifestyle affects our long-term health.

Subscribe to learn more about how important sleep is for our ongoing and long-term health.



[1] Redzic Z. Molecular biology of the blood-brain and the blood-cerebrospinal fluid barriers: similarities and differences. Fluids and Barriers of the CNS. 2011;8(1):3.

[2] Benveniste H, Lee H, Volkow ND. The Glymphatic Pathway: Waste Removal from the CNS via Cerebrospinal Fluid Transport. The Neuroscientist. 2017;23(5):454-65.

[3] Blennow K. Cerebrospinal fluid protein biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease. NeuroRX. 2004;1(2):213-25.

[4] Sabia S, Fayosse A, Dumurgier J, Van Hees VT, Paquet C, Sommerlad A, et al. Association of sleep duration in middle and old age with an incidence of dementia. Nature Communications. 2021;12(1).

[5] Hahn EA, Wang H-X, Andel R, Fratiglioni L. A Change in Sleep Pattern May Predict Alzheimer Disease. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2014;22(11):1262-71.

[6] Spira AP, Chen-Edinboro LP, Wu MN, Yaffe K. Impact of sleep on the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Current Opinion in Psychiatry. 2014;27(6):478-83.

[7] Lim ASP, Kowgier M, Yu L, Buchman AS, Bennett DA. Sleep Fragmentation and the Risk of Incident Alzheimer's Disease and Cognitive Decline in Older Persons. Sleep. 2013;36(7):1027-32.

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