Sleep troubles could lead to an increased risk of Alzheimer's

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Brain waves during slow-wave sleep are measured as a study participant sleeps. (Image: Yo-El Ju)
Brain waves during slow-wave sleep are measured as a study participant sleeps. (Image: Yo-El Ju)

People with chronic sleep disorders may be at a higher risk for Alzheimer's disease, a recently published study shows.

During the study, one night of poor sleep caused amyloid beta to increase by 10%. Amyloid beta is a protein linked to Alzheimer's disease. An entire week of poor sleep also caused increased tau, which is a brain protein associated with brain damage in Alzheimer's.

The study included 17 healthy adults aged 35 to 65 years who previously experienced no sleep problems or cognitive impairments.

Researchers believe it is unlikely that a day or week could have an effect on one's risk for Alzheimer's disease. Instead, they said, the focus should be on people with chronic sleep disorders.

“The main concern is people who have chronic sleep problems,” said Yo-El Ju, M.D., co-first author of the study and an assistant professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “I think that may lead to chronically elevated amyloid levels, which animal studies have shown lead to increased risk of amyloid plaques and Alzheimer's.”

This is not the first time sleep problems have been associated with Alzheimer's disease. Ju's previous research also showed that people with sleep apnea developed mild cognitive impairment, an early sign of Alzheimer's, about 10 years earlier than those without a sleep disorder.

Currently no therapies are proven to prevent, slow or reverse Alzheimer's disease.

In addition to Washington University, the study was undertaken by researchers from Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands and Stanford University. The findings were published July 10 in Brain.

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