The Woolcock Institute of Medical Research

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Sleep hormone anti-dementia research study

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Scientists at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research and Brain and Mind Centre at The University of Sydney are investigating the role of a sleep hormone in reducing oxidative stress in the brain linked to neurocognitive disorders.

“We’re hoping to find that this very potent antioxidant can improve cognitive functioning in older people with mild cognitive impairment, a condition which causes a slight but noticeable change in memory and thinking skills,” explains lead researcher Dr Camilla Hoyos.

People living with mild cognitive impairment are at a higher risk of developing dementia. “This natural hormone has also been reported to reduce hypertension, and improve mood and sleep, so we’re investigating these as well.”

Dementia is the second leading cause of death among Australians. A sleep hormone is one of many possible preventative treatments being explored by researchers to help delay the onset of the debilitating degenerative condition. The hormone may have therapeutic benefits, in particular for synchronising the body clock and promoting good sleep. Sleep disturbance has been linked to increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

To investigate the benefits of this sleep hormone, the researchers are seeking 40 NSW residents aged 60 to 80 who have noticed changes in their memory or thinking skills. Participants will be randomly assigned to take either a high-dose hormone tablet or a placebo pill daily for three months.

“We’ll run a series of health and cognitive tests and non-invasive brain scans both before and after the three-month treatment,” Dr Hoyos explains. “We’re hoping to show that the sleep hormone may significantly reduce oxidative stress, which is the imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body.”

If this feasibility trial is successful, the study will be rolled out to a larger group of older Australians. “If it’s still found to be effective then every Australian at risk could hypothetically be taking this hormone in the future to attempt to prevent the onset of dementia,” Dr Hoyos says. 

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