How sleep can prevent Alzheimer's disease

Caitlin Chang

New research has discovered a link between poor sleep and Alzheimer's disease risk. Photo: Getty

A restful sleep is the key to so many aspects of your help: from lowering stress to losing weight, and now new research reveals that it may also prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

New research published in the journal Nature Neuroscience suggests that poor sleep may contribute to a build up of brain proteins that can lead to an impaired memory. According to scientists at the University of California, this is the first time that a pattern of sleep brain waves has been linked to higher levels of brain plaque, which can drive the disease.

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Examining a small cohort of 26 cognitively normal adults, aged 65 to 81, they found higher levels of amyloid – the protein responsible for brain plaque found on Alzheimer’s disease – in those people who suffered more disrupted sleep patterns. What’s more, the higher levels of disrupted sleep pair with poorer sleep led to worse results in simple memory tests.

While a build up of amyloid does lead to an increased risk in Alzheimer’s, it’s worth noting that all participants were cognitively healthy, and researchers didn’t follow up to see if they developed mild cognitive impairment. However, according to study author Matthew Walker, sleep quality can be an early marker, well before people experience cognitive problems. “Sleep is a great early warning beacon, a distress call that we can latch onto, to potentially alert us to the beginnings of Alzheimer’s,” he said.

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It seems the relationship between amyloid build up and poor sleep is two-way. “The more beta-amyloid you have in certain parts of your brain, the less deep sleep you get and, consequently, the worse your memory,” Walker said in a statement. “Additionally, the less deep sleep you have, the less effective you are at clearing out this bad protein. It’s a vicious cycle.”

However, if poor sleep is leading to increased levels of protein, improved sleep may reduce the burden. Prioritising a good night’s sleep may just be a vital piece in your brain health puzzle.


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