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Poor Sleep May be Linked to Increased Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

A recent study suggests that sleeping poorly may be linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers claim that disrupted non-rapid eye movement sleep allows the protein beta-amyloid, which has been linked with triggering Alzheimer’s, to attack long-term memory.

According to Matthew Walker, senior author of the study, “Sleep is helping wash away toxic proteins at night, preventing them from building up and from potentially destroying brain cells. It's providing a power cleanse for the brain." When non-rapid eye movement sleep is disrupted, overnight memory consolidation is impaired.

Participants in the study included 26 people between the ages of 65 and 81 who had not been diagnosed with dementia and had no other neurodegenerative, sleep, or psychiatric disorders. They were all given PET scans to measure the levels of beta-amyloid in their brains. They were also given a test that asked them to memorize 120 word pairs.

The participants then slept for eight hours, during which time their brain waves were measured using EEG. They were given brain scans using fMRI in the morning as they worked on the word pair test. Activity in the hippocampus was tracked during the test.

The researchers found that people with the highest levels of beta-amyloid in their medial frontal cortex had the poorest sleep quality and worst performance on the test. They are not certain if poor sleep or protein build-up came first, but believe that this initial research suggests a causal relationship between sleep, beta-amyloid, and Alzheimer’s.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, conducted the study. It was published online ahead of print on June 1, 2015, in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Lack of sleep has been linked in previous studies with increased weight gain, faster cognitive decline, increased blood pressure, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
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