Does Poor Sleep Help Cause Alzheimer’s Disease?

The National Geographic TV show “Sleepless in America” broached the topic of poor sleep’s contributing to the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). A look at research into the topic finds many interconnections between sleep deprivation and AD, especially after the disease strikes an individual and the “sundowner syndrome” sets in — causing wild variations in when the sufferer sleeps.

We already know that there’s a deep connection between sleep deprivation, regardless of the cause, and the onset of various health difficulties, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, chronic heart disease and even stroke. Scientists are probing the connection between poor sleep and Alzheimer’s and have pinpointed at least a couple of serious connections.

A University of Rochester study has suggested that sound “sleep ‘detoxes’ the brain by flushing out the waste products of neural activity.” A University of Pittsburgh team reported that sleep can cause hardened arteries, which in turn can help develop AD (and other diseases, obviously).

The main connection, however, seems to be what’s called interstitial fluid beta-amyloid levels — built-up beta-amyloid levels in the brain are indeed found in Alzheimer’s sufferers. Researchers from The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health found in its study that shorter nights’ sleep and overall poor sleep led to such a build-up. The researchers did add that repeatedly waking up during sleep was not found to contribute to the build-up, however.

The results were culled from studying a volunteer group of 70 Baltimore-area individuals with an average age of 76 who showed no signs of dementia. The study group kept detailed sleep diaries, and the researchers measured their beta-amyloid levels using various devices.

The researchers in the end gave an optimistic assessment of how Alzheimer’s can be prevented, or the odds of its onset at least greatly reduced: “Because late-life sleep disturbance can be treated, interventions to improve sleep or maintain healthy sleep among older adults may help prevent or slow AD to the extent that poor sleep promotes AD onset and progression.”

Regardless of your age, the bottom line is never to take sleep for granted, or to deliberately and consistently shortchange it. If you show signs in the daytime of fatigue and lack of focus, there’s a good chance your sleep is irregular. You should seek help immediately.

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