Scientists found that poor sleep allows a memory robbing protein, beta-amyloid protein, to build up in the brain and that protein then disrupts sleep further, creating a vicious non-sleep cycle. The study, published in Nature Neoscience, looked at 26 older adults between the ages of 65 and 81 who showed no existing evidence of dementia or other neurodegenerative, sleep or psychiatric disorders.
To study the link between sleep and Alzheimer’s, each participant received PET scans to measure levels of beta-amyloid in the brain. Then they were asked to memorize 120 word pairs and tested on how well they remembered a portion of them.
The study participants then slept for 8 hours, during which an EEG measured their brain waves. The following morning, their brains were scanned using fMRI as they recalled the remaining word pairs. Overall, the results showed that the study participants with the highest levels of beta-amyloid in the medial frontal cortex had the poorest quality of sleep. Consequently, they performed worst on the memory test the following morning, with some forgetting more than half of the information they had memorized the previous day. The next step is looking into whether it is the lack of sleep or the build-up of beta-amyloid protein that may start the process.
The good news is that there may be something we can do about this, and that sleep therapies may be the first step in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s.
If you are one of millions of Americans who do not get a great night’s sleep, here are some tips to help you have a more restful night.
Photo from here, with thanks.