Wash U study finds sleep deprivation may lead to Alzheimer's

Trouble Sleeping Linked to Alzheimer's

But getting enough shut-eye can be hard when you lead a busy life. Tau levels did increase in the participants who slept poorly in the week leading up to the study though.

How well, not how much, people sleep may affect Alzheimer's disease risk.

Another week of poor sleep can then subsequently increase a protein called tau, which has been linked to brain damage in Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases.

"Previous evidence has shown that sleep may influence the development or progression of Alzheimer's disease in various ways", explained study author Barbara B. Bendlin, PhD, "For example, disrupted sleep or lack of sleep may lead to amyloid plaque buildup because the brain's clearance system kicks into action during sleep".

They looked for indicators in the fluid that are found in Alzheimer's patients. Holtzman, Washington University sleep medicine physician Yo-El Ju and colleagues recruited 17 volunteers, all healthy adults between ages 35 and 65, who had no sleep disorders. That's a small sample, but enough to show a biological effect. "We found that the worse the sleep quality in the preceding week, the higher the tau".

The group filled out sleep questionnaires, and half were selected at random to have disrupted sleep during a sleep study, CBS News reported.

While asleep in the laboratory setting, all participants wore headphones, but while one group had no noises played to them, the other group were played a series of beeps of increasing loudness when it was detected that they had entered slow-wave sleep.

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Have you ever slept all night - only to wake up in the morning feeling exhausted?

Researchers said a couple of nights of bad sleep aren't harmful but chronic sleep problems can be a problem.

Spinal taps showed that the more deep sleep people missed out on, the higher their levels of A-beta in the morning.

"Because brain cells release amyloid beta during activity, we think if the brain cells can't rest the way they're supposed to and get that deep sleep, they produce a relative excess of amyloid", Ju said.

A single night's poor sleep can lead to a build-up of the proteins believed to be responsible for Alzheimer's. Still, it wasn't clear why not getting enough shut-eye promotes Alzheimer's disease.

Regardless of the mechanisms and levels of risk, the authors of both studies write that improving sleep should be considered a priority. "These are good sleepers", Ju says. "If someone suspects that they have sleep apnea, they should really seek evaluation and treatment".

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