Dr Michael Mosley on the importance of routine for sleep

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Dementia might seem inevitable but research suggests your risk can be modified. While falling asleep and getting enough quality shut-eye are usually the primary concerns, you may want to think twice about your dreams. Research links night terrors to an increased risk of the brain condition. Fortunately, Dr Mosley explains how you could get rid of scary dreams.

Between your diet and genes, there are many factors at play when it comes to your dementia risk.

However, your dreams could play a bigger part than you think, according to Dr Mosley.

“What is worrying is that new research suggests [recurrent nightmares] may be linked to an increased risk of dementia later in life,” the doctor penned for Daily Mail.

Research, published in The Lancet journal, looked at a study from the US of more than 3,500 people between the ages of 35 and older before arriving at this conclusion.

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At the beginning of the research, all participants had to fill out detailed questionnaires that included queries about bad dreams.

Going through the data a decade later revealed that older men who reported having nightmares on a weekly basis were five times more likely to develop dementia.

Women weren’t able to escape this risk entirely either as the research reported those with bad dreams were 41 percent more likely to develop the brain condition.

Dr Mosley said: “These findings suggest that either frequent nightmares are an early sign of brain problems, which lead to dementia, or that having regular bad dreams causes dementia (perhaps by disrupting brain-restoring elements of sleep).

“The good news, according to Dr Abidemi Otaiku, a neuroscientist at the University of Birmingham, who ran this study, is that treating nightmares can lead to improvements in memory and thinking skills and may even, in some people, prevent dementia.”

You have probably heard the old wives’ tale that cheese will leave you with night terrors but the expert said there’s no need to worry about this salty snack.

When researchers from the British Cheese Board asked 200 volunteers to eat 20g of different cheeses every night for a week before calling it a day, they reported no nightmares.

However, those who opted for Stilton before bedtime reported having “more bizarre” dreams.

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Another trick that could tackle bad dreams is called imagery rehearsal therapy, which involves revisiting your bad dreams and switching up the narrative.

Dr Mosley said: “For example, if your nightmare involves being attacked by wolves, then imagine the dream ending with the wolves turning into cute King Charles spaniels and curling up on your lap.

“If you do this every day for five to ten minutes, within two weeks you should see a drop in how often you have that nightmare.”

However, this technique might not work for everyone, so the doctor suggested one more sleep hack.

So-called “musical technique” involves choosing a noise to be played when you’re sleeping.

“A fascinating new study in which researchers in Switzerland showed that playing a recurrent noise while someone is asleep not only helps reduce how often they have nightmares but can also replace bad dreams with more pleasant ones,” he added.

What else can reduce your dementia risk?

From a healthy diet to cutting back on alcohol, your sleep isn’t the only lifestyle practice that can help cut your risk.

Just like with any other healthy diet, you need to focus on keeping saturated fat, salt, and sugar in check, while boosting your intake of fibre.

Other lifestyle changes that can also benefit your brain include exercise and quitting smoking, according to the NHS.

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