Exercise and sleep in Alzheimer’s

The previous blog looked at a journal article entitled: Effects of exercise on sleep in neurodegenerative disease, and focussed on its comments about sleep, exercise and Parkinson’s disease. This post looks at what the article has to say about exercise, sleep and Alzheimer’s disease.

As with Parkinson’s, sleep disorders are very common, affecting up to 45% of people with Alzheimer’s. The severity of the sleep problems is an indicator of the severity of dementia. Constantly losing track of the time of day shows that the circadian rhythm has been disrupted; losing this vital organiser of body and brain speeds the decline of brain function. Not nice.

It is really important to take notice of sleep in people with, or at at risk of, having Alzheimer’s. It is a marker of increased risk for loss of the brain functions instrinsic to that person. Medication is not the solution, as drugs can increase the risk of low blood pressure, dizziness and falls.

The other reason to take sleep problems seriously is the impact on the carers. If the carer is woken up frequently during the night, a second person’s health and future is at risk. Being a carer is hard enough, consistently disrupted sleep reduces the ability to cope with life.

If people with Alzheimer’s do exercise, they sleep better. Simple. Walking is great, and one study showed that the more walking they did (especially with family members) the better the resulting sleep.

An excellent piece of research showed that a quality exercise program that combined aerobic and endurance activities, strength training, balance and flexibility training could delay or even prevent behavioural problems in old, frail people with dementia living in nursing homes. Another study showed that people with dementia taking part in a similar exercise program for three one-hour sessions per week, had better sleep and could do more things for themselves on a daily basis.

The ideal would be a regular exercise program (a three-times weekly quality program as described above) interspersed with walking on the other days.

Transcranial red and near-infrared light (photobiomodulation) also help people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Photobiomodulation on a daily basis promotes improvements in sleep, thinking, judgement, short term memory as well as mood and anxiety.

Prof John Mitrofanis’s book showed the value of both exercise and photobiomodulation for people with neurological disorders. The combination is better than either on its own.

And the best thing about exercise and photobiomodulation? No adverse side effects.


Adeel A. Memon, Juliana J. Coleman, Amy W. Amara, Effects of exercise on sleep in neurodegenerative disease, Neurobiology of Disease,Volume 140,2020,104859, ISSN 0969-9961,(https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0969996120301340)

Thanks to Felicia Wigo on Unsplash for another gorgeous sleeping koala.

Author: RedlightsontheBrain

Redlightsonthebrain is written by Catherine Hamilton, a retired doctor on behalf of Light Ahead Inc, a Tasmanian-based not-for-profit organisation. Light Ahead Inc aims to help people to learn about neurogenerative diseases and the practical, safe and scientifically-based things that may be able to help. Part of this is to provide low-cost access to red light devices, hence the DIY instructions on this blog. All sales of the Coronet red light device support the work of Light Ahead Inc.

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