Alzheimer’s Basics: The Importance of Sleep

SleepDoes poor sleep affect your risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease — or does having Alzheimer’s Disease affect how well you sleep? Both might be true, and we discuss sleep strategies for people living with Alzheimer’s in the Caregiver section of our blog. But for the rest of us, how important is it to get a good night’s sleep? Is poor sleep a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s?

Sleep and the relationship to amyloid build-up

Scientists have conducted many studies examining the link between sleep and amyloid protein, which is a hallmark sign of Alzheimer’s. They found that shorter sleep duration and poor sleep quality are associated with greater amyloid build-up. But an association like this is not clear-cut evidence, since it is difficult to determine whether poor sleep causes greater amyloid deposits, or if it’s the other way around.

The research shows that build-up of amyloid in the brain is due to overproduction of amyloid, inability to get rid of excess amyloid, or both. It’s also been shown that amyloid concentration dips during sleep and peaks during awake hours. The more the scientists look at this relationship, the more indicators they have that poor sleep might be the cause of the amyloid build-up, and therefore an important risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s.

Is getting more sleep the answer?

The general scientific theory is that sleep helps the brain dispose of any “garbage” that accumulates while awake. That, combined with the evidence that sleep/wake patterns affect fluctuations in amyloid concentration, leads researchers to believe that sleep is important for lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Further studies are needed before the scientific community can issue a definitive conclusion,  but if similar results are found, sleep length and quality could be early, modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease. And interventions to improve sleep or maintain healthy sleep may help prevent or slow the disease. Lastly, sleep has also been similarly linked to heart disease, obesity, anxiety, and depression.

Bottom Line? Get a good night’s sleep. And, if you are one of the many people living with a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor about it. It may very well reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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