The link between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease is a subject we’ve written about in the past, and it’s important to stay up-to-date as new research becomes available, because the disease has likely touched you or someone you love in some way. Generally a scary topic, Alzheimer’s is something that most of us would prefer not to think about, and if you know someone who has experienced it, you have seen firsthand that it is a frightening and debilitating disease that affects not only the one suffering but caretakers, family members and friends.
While this subject can be uncomfortable, it’s incredibly important to address it. We want to share with you how scientists are continuing to discover more about the connection between sleep and the disease.
What We Know
Let’s start with a baseline of what we know about Alzheimer’s, sleep, and the buildup of beta-amyloid peptides in the brain, a distinct and key marker of the disease.
Researchers have found that shorter sleep duration and poor sleep quality are associated with individuals having greater amounts of amyloid deposits in the brain. Additionally, when a person experiences short (or even too long) sleep duration (more or less than 7-8 hours a night) in midlife, it results in lower cognitive scores down the road.
While further research is needed to definitively confirm that poor and fragmented sleep promotes the development of Alzheimer’s, the association with the buildup of beta-amyloid proteins is clear.
Now, new findings underline existing literature that suggests deep, restorative sleep may prevent or at least slow down the development of the disease.
The study above’s participants, observed over multiple years, had the growth rate of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain tracked, and that growth rate was evaluated against each participant’s individual sleep profiles.
Researchers found that the trajectory of beta-amyloid growth in the participant’s brains correlated with baseline sleep quality. From there, the researchers were able to forecast the increase in beta-amyloid plaques over the course of the individual’s life.
Those who reported worsening sleep quality in their 40’s and 50’s had more beta-amyloid proteins later in life, while those reporting a decline in their 50’s and 60’s reported more tau protein tangles (another marker for Alzheimer’s disease).
With these findings, the researchers encouraged physicians to proactively inquire about sleep quality in their older patients and recommend steps to intervene if necessary, citing that early poor sleep intervention may help prevent Alzheimer’s.
Suggested intervention steps include simple sleep hygiene tips, such as clearing all distractions from the bedroom, going to bed earlier and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule. Additionally, recommending treatment for sleep conditions often faced by older adults, such as sleep apnea, is a step in the right direction to identify and manage any issues.
While treatment for Alzheimer’s disease is becoming more promising as new developments pave the way, prevention should also be considered, and current research indicates that sleep may play a big part in prevention going forward. Recognizing sleep apnea early (particularly in people who are 50+, who tend to experience a higher rate of the disorder), is critical.
If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the following behaviors, it may be an indication of sleep apnea:
- Loud snoring every night
- Persistent exhaustion despite sleeping 7-9 hours
- Waking up in the middle of the night out of breath or gasping
- Frequent urination throughout the night
- Sore throat/headaches most mornings
- Mood swings/mental fog
- Issues staying focused/remembering things
Most of the time, it’s a bed partner that first notices the pauses in breathing that characterize sleep apnea, but in order to get a proper diagnosis and treatment, patients need to visit a specially-trained doctor. Timely treatment is key to better health and a better night’s sleep for everyone.
The First Step Toward Better Sleep & Memory Health
If you suspect you or a loved one might be struggling with sleep apnea, an easy next step is to schedule a free consultation with local sleep expert Dr. Jeff Rodgers. He has served the Atlanta area for over 20 years, creating custom-made oral appliances that can help sleep apnea sufferers breathe better throughout the night and get needed deep sleep.
The road to beating Alzheimer’s disease is still being built, but more and more science is pointing toward sleep as a key way to ensure cherished memories stay protected and sharp into your golden years.