HealthDay News — Older men who spend less time in deep sleep or have breathing difficulties while asleep may have a greater risk of brain changes that contribute to dementia, according to a study published online in Neurology.

The findings are based on brain autopsies from 167 elderly Japanese-American men who’d taken part in a long-term health study before their deaths. As part of that study, the men had their oxygen levels and brain activity monitored as they slept.

Overall, the researchers found, the one-quarter of men with the lowest oxygen levels during sleep were almost four times more likely to show microinfarcts in the brain, versus men with the highest oxygen levels. Men who spent less time in slow-wave sleep — the deep, restorative stage of sleep — tended to show more atrophy in their brain tissue.

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Past studies have suggested that people with certain sleep disturbances may face a greater dementia risk, the researchers note. But the reasons remain unclear. The new findings “help to explain how sleep disturbances may actually contribute to the development of cognitive impairment and dementia,” study leader Rebecca Gelber, MD, of the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System in Honolulu, told HealthDay.


  1. Gelber RP et al. Neurology. 2014; doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000001163.