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Bruce Willis Has Frontotemporal Dementia. These Habits Can Ward It Off

Getting enough sleep can stave off the disease, even if you have a genetic predisposition.

30-Second Takeaway

Actor Bruce Willis, 68, developed aphasia and was later diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. A neuroscientist explains how changes to your sleep duration, schedule, and your bedtime routine may prevent the disease.


ie Hard leading man, Bruce Willis, 68, retired from acting in 2022 after developing aphasia—a speech condition that impacts a person’s ability to understand and communicate with spoken language. This year, he revealed that he was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, though according to a recent update from his wife, Emma Hemming Willis, it’s hard to know if he understands he has the disease.

Frontotemporal dementia makes up about  20 percent of all dementia cases, according to The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration. Unlike other forms of dementia which hit people in their mid-60s, frontotemporal dementia commonly impacts people under age 60. 

Frontotemporal dementia is associated with clumps of abnormal protein forming inside and around the sensitive neurons of the brain. These clumps are thought to damage the cells and stop them working properly, according to neuroscientist and sleep specialist Chelsie Rohrscheib, Ph.D. 

While there’s no cure for the disease, experts like Rohrscheib believe that optimal sleep habits may reduce your risk. 

“The brain waste clearance that occurs while we sleep normally works to remove these proteins,” Rohrscheib says. “Focusing on consistently getting enough, good quality sleep can actually reduce your risk for dementia,” Rohrscheib notes. “Even if you have a genetic predisposition for the disease.”

Sleep Hacks to Prevent Dementia

Rohrscheib points to a 2017 study on healthy middle-aged adults, which found that just one night of bad sleep produced beta amyloid plaques (a protein that disrupts communication between brain cells)—a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease (1).

But staving off dementia is so much more than clocking in Zs on your Oura Ring or making up for lost sleep on the weekends. Rohrscheib explains how to optimize your sleep duration, schedule, and bedtime routine for the best lifespan-protecting results. 

Sleep 7 to 9 hours every night

“People who consistently sleep less than 5 hours per night are twice as likely to develop dementia than those that sleep 7 or more hours,” Rohrscheib says. However, sleeping over nine has been linked to doubled dementia risk (2).

That means the sweet spot is between seven and nine hours of sleep every night, per Rohrscheib.

If you’re a perpetual Facebook doom-scroller or compulsive email refresher, Rohrscheib suggests giving yourself extra time to relax in bed before lights out to make sure that you’re getting enough sleep once you unplug.

Stick to a sleep schedule

Even if you’re clocking in over seven hours of sleep every night, moving your bedtime around may also increase your risk of dementia. Research shows that having a well-balanced circadian rhythm is associated with greater resilience to Alzheimer’s and dementia—and slower progression of the disease if you do develop it (3). 

“Maintain a strict sleep schedule so that you are going to bed and waking up at the same time daily,” Rohrscheib says. “This will keep your circadian rhythm well regulated.”

Avoid stimulation before bed

Avoid stimulation from caffeine, exercise, and bright lights before bedtime, Rohrscheib suggests. Stimulation can stunt your body’s natural production of melatonin, according to research, which can leave you feeling wide awake hours after trying to get some shut eye (4).

“If you have had chronically poor sleep for a long time and nothing you do seems to help, speak to your doctor as you may have an underlying sleep disorder,” Rohrscheib says.