Poor sleeping patterns could be linked to Alzheimer's Disease, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that healthy elderly people who have higher levels of amyloid deposition in regions of the brain report being more sleepy and less rested.
This means that sleep disturbance could be a therapeutic target for early interventions to prevent the progression of cognitive deficits in later life.
The scientists studied the relationship between sleep quality and brain amyloid levels in a group of 98 cognitively healthy volunteers between 50 and 73 years of age. The subjects were given questionnaires about their sleep and any problems related to it.
Positron emission tomography scanning was used alongside a tracer that visualises deposits of amyloid, a protein that is elevated in the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients.
Among those who reported greater sleepiness, higher levels of amyloid accumulation were found in areas of the cerebral cortex that are heavily affected in Alzheimer's disease - the supramarginal and frontal medial orbital areas.
In addition, the researchers found evidence of a link between higher amyloid in these regions, less restful sleep and more sleep problems.
It is possible that this connection could be evidence of an early marker of Alzheimer's Disease. A number of previous studies have highlighted the importance of sleep and the adverse effects of sleep deprivation on the brain.
Sleep apnoea is associated with cognitive dysfunction across the lifespan, and both untreated apnoea and sleep disturbance are associated with increased cognitive dysfunction in patients who have Alzheimer's.
However, further research is needed to establish a definitive link. Scientists are currently unsure whether sleep deprivation leads to a build-up of amyloid in the brain or if the process of neurodegeneration results in disordered sleep.
Answering this question could lead to the development of interventions that combat Alzheimer's Disease.
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