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Sleep Issues Linked to Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease

Sleep Issues

Nation of Poor Sleepers

Insufficient sleep affects 50-70 million adults in the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call poor sleep a “public health problem”, and many studies demonstrate that sleep problems increase one’s risk for diabetes, depression, and cardiovascular disease. In addition, many side effects of Alzheimer’s disease are sleep-related, including insomnia and nighttime wandering. However, poor sleep many not only be a side-effect of Alzheimer’s disease, but also a contributing factor to its development. Over the past decade, numerous studies have indicated a correlation between disrupted sleep in middle-aged life and the onset of Alzheimer’s later in life.

Studying Sleep and Alzheimer's Disease

  • In 2009, researchers from Washington University’s School of Medicine in St. Louis found that sticky amyloid plaques built up in the brains of sleep-deprived mice. Alzheimer’s experts regard deposits of amyloid plaques as the first known preclinical stage of the disease, occurring before any signs of memory loss begin to appear.
  • While observing mice, scientists determined in 2013 that animals’ brains enter into a cleansing process during deep sleep, in which many toxins, including amyloid plaques, are cleared out of the brain tissue by the glymphatic system. They theorized that human brains undergo a similar process.
  • More recently, studies presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference reported that participants who suffered from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and similar sleep-related breathing disorders had greater increases in amyloid deposits over a three-year period.
  • In early July, the journal, Neurology also published a study of 101 participants who all had known risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, including family history and the presence of the APOE gene. The participants underwent a lumbar puncture and self-reported their sleep habits throughout the length of the study.
  • After analyzing participants’ spinal fluids, researchers found that those who reported frequent sleep issues were more likely to have brain cell damage and inflammation associated with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Hope for Early Detection

"Our findings align with the idea that worse sleep may contribute to the accumulation of Alzheimer's-related proteins in the brain," Dr. Barbard Bendlin of Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center said to CNN. "The fact that we can find these effects in people who are cognitively healthy and close to middle age suggest that these relationships appear early, perhaps providing a window of opportunity for intervention." Brendlin suggests that these findings could help reduce the number of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s by 5.7 million over the next 30 years.

Get Some Rest!

A good night’s sleep can do wonders for a person’s mood, performance, and health. While scientists need more research and studies to determine which comes first, insufficient sleep or Alzheimer’s disease, the data illustrates that there is a definite correlation between the two. So do yourself a favor and try to get a solid eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. Give your brain time to rest and cleanse itself.

For some tips on getting a good night’s sleep, check out this list from the National Sleep Foundation.

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