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Penn State study links insomnia to dementia

The findings could help predict which insomnia sufferers are at risk of cognitive impairment.

YORK, Pa. — An alarm is not typically a welcome sound, but it can be pretty bad after a night of little sleep. What could be worse though, is that 35 percent of the population says they have experienced some type of insomnia.  

Penn State's new study found that people with insomnia who got less than 6 hours of sleep had clear cognitive impairments, while people with the same sleep complaints but got more than 6 hours were not at risk for impairment.  

"It could help identify and even predict which insomnia patients are at an increased risk for developing dementia," said Dr. Julio Fernandez- Mendoza. The behavioral health and sleep specialist at Penn State Health Sleep Research and Treatment Center said their findings could also provide comfort to people who are worried they might fall into the dementia category.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults 18 to 64 years of age should get seven to nine hours of sleep each night to stay healthy. 

So if you aren't, here are the 6 tips Dr. Fernandez-Mendoza has to help you avoid restless nights:

  1. Don't focus on bedtime, focus on when you wake up.  Wake up every day at the same time, no matter what.
  2. Do not use your bedroom, especially your bed, for anything other than sex and sleep.
  3. Get out of bed if you can't fall asleep within about 20 minutes.
  4. No worrying in bed.
  5. Do not nap during the day.
  6. Only get into bed when you already feel sleepy.

It's still important to remember that there is a big difference between someone who occasionally suffers from sleepless nights and someone who has been diagnosed with chronic insomnia. 

If you have had trouble sleeping 3 times a week for at least 3 months, Dr. Fernandez-Mendoza recommends giving your doctor a call.

“The biggest myth about sleep is that you can get this magic one cycle of the night of 4 hours and as long as you get that, you’re good to go throughout the day,” Fernandez-Mendoza said.

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