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Poor Sleep May be a Sign of Alzheimer’s Disease

Amyloid plaque is found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, and previous research has found that disrupted sleep or lack of sleep may lead to amyloid plaque buildup. A recent study suggests that poor sleep in otherwise healthy people may be an early sign of the risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life.

Participants in the study included 101 people with an average age of 63 who had normal thinking and memory skills. All of the participants were considered at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, either because they had a parent who had Alzheimer’s or because they carried a gene associated with the disease.

The researchers surveyed all of the participants to determine sleep quality. They also took spinal fluid samples in order to test for biological markers of Alzheimer’s disease. The biological markers included signs of amyloid, tau, brain cell damage, and inflammation.

After examining the data, the researchers found that people who had poor sleep quality, more sleep problems, and daytime sleepiness had more biological markers of Alzheimer’s disease than those who did not have sleep problems. Not every type of sleep disturbance was associated with an increase in biological markers, however. For example, sleep apnea was not associated with increases.

The researchers do not yet know if Alzheimer’s makes people sleep more poorly or if poor sleep leads to the development of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison led the study. It was published online ahead of print on July 5, 2017, in Neurology.

Previous studies have linked not getting enough sleep with faster cognitive decline, increased blood pressure, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Some methods to try to improve your sleep include eating less high fat foods, eliminating “blue light” (such as the light from your phone) just before bed, and increasing exercise levels.

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