People who regularly wake up during the night may be more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, new research suggests.
Doctors at the University of California, Irvine conducted a study on mice, which led to the discovery that broken sleep can have an adverse effect on the memory, particularly if the problem occurs over a long-term period.
Sleep interruptions can induce jet lag-like symptoms, such as extreme fatigue, mood changes and difficulty concentrating, all of which can make it harder for the memory to function at its full capacity.
A research team at the university altered the day and night cycles that mice were exposed to, changing the level of light they faced every eight hours in order to jolt them awake and recreate the effects of broken sleep. Some of the mice were deemed to be healthy, while the others were models for Alzheimer's disease.
The mice then had to complete a water maze test, with those with Alzheimer's performing significantly worse following sleep deprivation than their counterparts who had been exposed to normal day and night cycles.
This indicates that interrupted sleep can exacerbate memory problems, making it increasingly difficult for patients to learn new information and follow instructions if their mind is already beginning to degenerate.
Lead author of the study Gregory Brewer commented: "The issue is whether poor sleep accelerates the development of Alzheimer's disease or vice versa. It's a chicken-or-egg dilemma, but our research points to disruption of sleep as the accelerator of memory loss."
However, the level of oxidative stress produced in the brain as a result of broken sleep is thought to increase inflammation and affect the organ's metabolism, which in turn could lead to the onset of Alzheimer's accelerating.
In light of this, Mr Brewer stated that getting good, uninterrupted sleep should become more of a priority for those trying to safeguard their mental health in old age, alongside consuming a healthy diet and taking part in regular exercise.