Poor sleep may increase Alzheimer's risk

Michele Moreno
July 12, 2017

"Previous evidence has shown that sleep may influence the development or progression of Alzheimer's disease in various ways", explained study author Barbara B. Bendlin, PhD, "For example, disrupted sleep or lack of sleep may lead to amyloid plaque buildup because the brain's clearance system kicks into action during sleep".

In the study, 17 healthy men and women aged 35 to 65 years took part in two sets of procedures, about a month apart.

While asleep in the laboratory setting, all participants wore headphones, but while one group had no noises played to them, the other group were played a series of beeps of increasing loudness when it was detected that they had entered slow-wave sleep. Tau snarls itself into tangles inside brain cells of people with the disease.

Quality sleep may help protect your brain against dementia, a recent study suggests.

"The worse someone's sleep quality, the more their amyloid beta and tau increase, and both amyloid beta and tau are involved in Alzheimer's over the long-term", Ju told Reuters Health in a telephone interview. "But a good night's sleep is something you want to be striving for anyway".

"Because brain cells release amyloid beta during activity, we think if the brain cells can't rest the way they're supposed to and get that deep sleep, they produce a relative excess of amyloid", Ju said. You probably didn't get enough deep sleep.

The study doesn't prove whether or how disrupted sleep contributes to the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. That caused levels of proteins called amyloid to rise in their spinal fluid.

Co-author Dr Yo-El Ju added that the team "were not surprised to find that tau levels didn't budge after just one night of disrupted sleep" while amyloid levels did. Both are likely true - not getting enough sleep could increase Alzheimer's risk (as the second study shows), and the factors that lead to Alzheimer's also seem to make it hard to sleep. "We think that perhaps chronic poor sleep during middle age may increase the risk of Alzheimer's later in life". Each person rated the amount they slept, their quality of sleep and trouble in sleeping, along with daytime naps and drowsiness.

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison looked at the spinal fluid of 101 people with an average age of 63, and found that those who reported poor sleep quality had, on average, more markers of Alzheimer's disease - including amyloid and tau build-ups, brain-cell damage and inflammation.

While certain drugs and even sound stimuli have been used experimentally to promote slow-wave sleep, he noted, "not just the presence but the timing of the slow waves may be really important".

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