New research suggests that poor sleep is linked to Alzheimer's disease. Published in Nature Neuroscience, the study connects this sleep disruption with an accumulation of a protein in the brain that is associated with the development of the disease.
The team found that loss of non-rapid eye movement sleep, which helps the brain hold on to memories, is a particular cause for concern. Indeed, the study revealed that people who miss out on this kind of sleep have an accumulation of the beta-amyloid protein, which is believed to trigger Alzheimer's disease.
To conduct the study, the research team looked at 26 older adults who had not been diagnosed with dementia or any other kind of neurodegenerative or sleep disorders. The levels of beta-amyloid in their brains were measured before they were asked to memorise 120 word pairs. They were then tested on how well they remembered them - and again after eight hours sleep.
The results demonstrated that people with the highest levels of beta-amyloid in the medial frontal cortex had the poorest quality of sleep and also got the worst results of the memory test after sleep.
"The more beta-amyloid you have in certain parts of your brain, the less deep sleep you get and, consequently, the worse your memory. Additionally, the less deep sleep you have, the less effective you are at clearing out this bad protein. It's a vicious cycle," said University of California - Berkeley neuroscience professor Matthew Walker, who is also senior author of the study.
The researchers said the study offers a ray of hope, noting that it may be possible to tackle Alzheimer's disease by improving sleep. However, research officer at Alzheimer's Society Dr Ian Le Guillou commented that more research is needed before knowing if this could be a potential treatment.
"We already know that dementia can affect sleep. This small study of older people without dementia, suggests the build-up in the brain of the protein beta-amyloid, a key component of Alzheimer's disease, is linked to sleep disruption and poorer memory but the evidence isn't strong enough to prove it actually causes these problems," he noted.
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