Sleeplessness Linked To Alzheimer's Disease

When people have trouble sleeping in the night, they might just be thinking that it would only lead to a sleepy day ahead, lower productivity and not much else. But researchers are discovering other things that might make some people more concerned about their lack of sleep and similar problems. One study suggests that poor quality sleep may be linked to the build-up of plaques in the brain, a sign usually seen in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis conducted a preliminary study that involved 100 mentally healthy individuals. The participants in the said study have ages that range between 45 and 80 years old. Half of them have previously been noted to have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers monitored their sleeping patterns for a period of two weeks. The participants wore a device on their wrists that detected whether they were awake or asleep, depending on their body movements. The participants were also made to fill out sleep diaries and questionnaires. During the course of the study, they were also made to undergo brain imaging and spinal fluid tests.

The preliminary results of the study has shown that those who awakened for more than five times per hour were also more likely to develop more amyloid plaque accumulations compared to those participants with fewer sleep disturbances. Amyloid plaques in the brain are known as common characteristics of Alzheimer’s, a condition that robs people of their memory and reasoning skills. Amyloid plaques can be detected by brain imaging and spinal fluid tests and appear years before the onset of Alzheimer’s and its associated symptoms.

According to Dr. Yo-El Ju, assistant professor of neurology and an author of the said study, “We were initially looking at duration of sleep, but it seems the quality of sleep is more important to this association. We don’t know if early Alzheimer’s is causing poor sleep, or vice-versa.”

“It’s possible that there’s some change in brain activity going on during sleep that allows soluble amyloid to decrease overnight, but we need to study this much more closely,” Dr. Ju added.

About 25 percent of the participants have shown preclinical indicators of Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers also found out that those who slept less efficiently through the night were also more likely to show indicators of early-stage Alzheimer’s. While the average time spent in bed by the participants was 8 hours, some averaged only 6.5 hours of sleep due to brief awakenings sometime during their sleeping period. Those participants who spent less than 85 percent of their time actually sleeping were more likely to show certain biomarkers associated with Alzheimer’s.

The preliminary findings were released on February 14, ahead of the actual presentation of the study at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology that will be held on April in New Orleans. The study is still underway and will be completed in several months.

Source: Everyday Health


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