Lack of Sleep Linked to Alzheimer's
If you’re struggling to sleep, you may want to improve it as a matter of priority. Because a new study has found that just one night of interrupted sleep a week is linked to Alzheimer’s disease in middle-aged adults.
The discovery was made after a research team at Washington University in St Louis, in the US, found that one night’s disturbed sleep sparked an increase in a brain protein that’s associated with Alzheimer’s.
also found that just one week of bad sleep boosts production of another protein that’s linked with brain damage in dementia and other diseases.
We showed that poor sleep is associated with higher levels of two Alzheimer's-associated proteins," said study author David M. Holtzman.
"We think that perhaps chronic poor sleep during middle age may increase the risk of Alzheimer's later in life."
How poor sleep affects the brain
Scientists have known for some time that people with Alzheimer’s disease have particular proteins on their brains, which kill off brain tissue.
Previous studies found that sleep apnoea can impair cognition. But until now, researchers didn’t know how poor sleep actually damages the brain.
To find out, the team recruited 17 healthy volunteers aged 35 to 65. They wore a wrist monitor for two weeks to assess their sleep patterns. After five nights, they then slept in a designated room at the university while electrodes monitored their brain waves.
While in the sleep room, they also wore headphones. Half of the participants had their sleep disturbed by beeps coming through the headphones. This was done when they were in deep sleep, with the beeps gradually becoming louder. Half of the group whose sleep had been disturbed reported having poor sleep, even if they weren’t aware of the beeps.
The participants then had their levels of brain protein (tau and amyloid) measured. A month later, the same test was performed.
"We were not surprised to find that tau levels didn't budge after just one night of disrupted sleep while amyloid levels did, because amyloid levels normally change more quickly than tau levels," said study author Yo-El Ju.
“But we could see, when the participants had several bad nights in a row at home, that their tau levels had risen."
Striving for better sleep
So, should you be concerned if you have a night of poor sleep?
"The main concern is people who have chronic sleep problems," Ju said. "I think that may lead to chronically elevated amyloid levels, which animal studies have shown lead to increased risk of amyloid plaques and Alzheimer's."
“We can't say whether improving sleep will reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's. All we can really say is that bad sleep increases levels of some proteins that are associated with Alzheimer's disease. But a good night's sleep is something you want to be striving for anyway."
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