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The idea that there’s an intimate connection between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease is not a new one.
The amount of sleep disruption that comes with Alzheimer’s generally depends on the stage of the disease.
People in early stages often sleep more than usual or wake up in a disoriented state. As the disease progresses, they may begin sleeping during the day and awaken frequently during the night.
Researchers have been interested in the sleep-dementia connection for quite a while now. They have tried to determine the direction of this relationship: does poor sleep lead to Alzheimer’s or does Alzheimer’s cause sleep disturbances?
The answer, it seems, is both.
How can poor sleep lead to Alzheimer’s?
β-amyloid protein is a metabolic waste product that is found in the fluid between brain cells. In Alzheimer’s disease, beta-amyloid clumps together to form amyloid plaques, which disrupt communication between neurons.
A 2018 study from the National Institutes of Health used PET scans to examine the brains of healthy adults ages 22 to 72. They found that β-amyloid levels increased by five percent after just one night of sleep deprivation.
This increase was concentrated in the thalamus and hippocampus, two brain regions that are especially vulnerable to damage in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition, participants with a larger increase in β-amyloid reported worse moods after being deprived of sleep for 31 hours.
While more studies are needed to identify the precise mechanism that causes the β-amyloid buildup, the researchers feel that their work provides some important insight into how poor sleep can harm the brain.
It works both ways
A study published just this summer approaches the sleep-Alzheimer’s connection from a different angle…
Researchers at Columbia University took a look at the relationship between oxidative stress and poor sleep. They hoped it might shed light on what happens to the brain that’s affected by Alzheimer’s.
Previous studies have shown that oxidative stress comes before the appearance of β-amyloid plaques and tau tangles, the hallmark brain disruptors of Alzheimer’s disease.
In the Columbia study, a mutant form of fruit fly that sleeps less than normal is extremely sensitive to oxidative stress. Even more interesting, increasing sleep also increased resistance to oxidative stress.
More research is needed, but it seems likely that by harnessing sleep as a natural antioxidant, we may be able to slow the processes of developing Alzheimer’s.
How to get a good night’s sleep
Fortunately, there’s a lot we can do to help ourselves get the restful, reparative sleep we all need.
Here are some great tips to start with from my colleague, Dr. Mark Wiley.
In addition, there are three specific things that interfere with deep, night-long sleep that you can easily fix…
- Pink or white noise in your bedroom is proven to induce restful sleep. These low-level, background sounds that often resemble sounds of nature have been proven to positively affect brain waves and allow us to reach REM sleep, where restoration occurs.
- A totally dark bedroom is not just a nice thing to have. It’s essential for allowing your body’s day-nigh rhythm, known as its circadian rhythm, to run smoothly and release you into deep sleep when it’s time.
- Finally, avoid the worst foods for your brain. Junk foods have been found to interfere with rhythmic electrical signals that occur only during deep sleep — known as “slow waves.” This process triggers slow pulses of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that wash through the brain and remove toxins.
Editor’s note: While you’re doing all the right things to protect your brain as you age, make sure you don’t make the mistake 38 million Americans do every day — by taking a drug that robs them of an essential brain nutrient! Click here to discover the truth about the Cholesterol Super-Brain!
- Antioxidant Benefits of Sleep — Neuroscience News
- Sleep deprivation increases Alzheimer’s protein — National Institutes of Health
- Sleep architecture and the risk of incident dementia in the community — Neurology
- β-Amyloid accumulation in the human brain after one night of sleep deprivation — Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Alzheimer Disease and Oxidative Stress — Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology