Thoughts on Better Aging

The Connection Between Alzheimer’s and Sleep

September 7th, 2018

Studies suggest a sleep-deprived brain may be more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s

With the number of Alzheimer’s patients in America projected to grow to 15 million by 2050, researchers have been working hard to untangle the many mysteries surrounding this disease. One of these mysteries is how sleep deprivation and sleep quality are related to the development and progress of the disease.

Sleep “Cleans” Away Amyloid-Beta Plaques

Recently published research from the University of Wisconsin shows clearly that there is a connection between sleep and Alzheimer’s. The research was based on information from the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention, which includes medical history and lifestyle information from over 1,500 participants between the ages of 40 and 65. None of these individuals had symptoms of dementia when the study began in 2001, but 70 percent of them had a history of Alzheimer’s in their family.

As part of the study, participants were asked questions about their lives and given tests for markers of Alzheimer’s, such as levels of a protein fragment called amyloid-beta, which is a waste produce created by neurons. When amyloid-beta collects in the brain, it can form plaques that are considered a hallmark of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers noticed that the study participants who reported poor sleep on their questionnaires had higher amounts of amyloid-beta in their brains. In a different group of participants who were willing to get spinal taps, reports of poor sleep corresponded with higher levels of markers associated with Alzheimer’s in their spinal fluid—including markers related to amyloid-beta.

Researchers theorized that sleep was acting as a sort of cleaning cycle for the brain, allowing amyloid-beta to be carried away before it could create plaques, cause inflammation, and create neuron-killing byproducts like tau. In experiments on mice, researchers confirmed that levels of amyloid-beta decrease during sleep. This is accomplished by the movement of cerebrospinal fluid, which increases during sleep to wash away metabolic debris such as amyloid-beta.

This research has turned conventional wisdom about sleep and Alzheimer’s upside down. Whereas before we knew that having Alzheimer’s makes it hard to sleep, now it appears that poor sleep may drive the development of the disease. In addition to allowing the buildup of amyloid-beta, poor sleep can also disrupt circadian rhythms, affect levels of the sleep hormone melatonin, and cause metabolic changes—all of which are often seen in Alzheimer’s patients and make it even harder to sleep.

Improve Your Sleep Quality Today

Healthy, restful sleep is extremely important for many different aspects of health, not just brain health. If you are having trouble sleeping, Renew Youth can help. Often, sleep problems have a hormonal component. We can offer personalized hormone therapy to balance your hormones, as well as melatonin spray to help make falling asleep easier. To learn more, contact us today.

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