Scientists track signal of Alzheimer's link to sleep patterns
Researchers have gathered more evidence that could make sleeplessness a culprit in Alzheimer's disease. They saw that a known marker of the disease, beta amyloid, rose and fell in connection with sleep patterns. The findings follow years of research that has linked the memory-stealing illness to lack of sleep.
If the link between poor sleep and Alzheimer's is confirmed in humans, there could be a new market for sleep meds to improve a person's ability to control the ebb and flow of beta amyloid proteins, which are byproducts of brain activity and can form into plaques that have been seen in the brains of victims of the disease. When we let our brains rest during sleep, we give our body the chance to remove beta amyloid from our brains through our spinal fluid and other means, according to researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
The group's study, which is published online in the journal Archives of Neurology, found that young and healthy subjects in the study had greater ups and downs in beta amyloid levels. By comparison, levels of the Alzheimer's marker were flatter in older patients who were more likely to sleep poorly. In older patients with brain plaques, levels of beta amyloid were constant during sleep and wakefulness.
"It's still speculation, but there are tantalizing hints that better sleep may be helpful in reducing Alzheimer's disease risk," Dr. Stephen Duntley, a professor of neurology and director of Washington University's Sleep Medicine Center, which contributed to the study, said in a release. "We know from a number of studies that exercise enhances sleep, and research also has shown that exercise is associated with decreased risk of Alzheimer's. Sleep might be one link through which that effect occurs."