Can lack of sleep make you more vulnerable to Alzheimer's?

JUST one night of disturbed sleep increases levels of a brain protein linked to Alzheimer's, research has shown.

In the study, 17 healthy men and women aged 35 to 65 years took part in two sets of procedures, about a month apart. "For example, disrupted sleep or lack of sleep may lead to amyloid plaque buildup because the brain's clearance system kicks into action during sleep". On the other visit, researchers played beeps through headphones whenever the volunteers were about to go into deep sleep. The subjects completed the questionnaires on sleep and submitted to spinal tap and on analyzing their spinal fluids there were the presence of indicators of tangles and plaques characterizing Alzheimer's. "The worse your sleep quality, the more your tau increased", said Ju.

"When people don't sleep well, their brain cells don't get a chance to rest", Dr. Yo-El Ju of Washington University.

Not getting enough sleep doesn't feel good - and could have some scary long-term consequences. But Alzheimer's is associated with disrupted sleep "in a bi-directional manner", the researchers note, so the results shed light on one possible mechanism. Specifically, "this suggests that there's something special about deep, slow-wave sleep", says Kristine Yaffe, a neurologist and psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco who was not involved in the study. However, the people who reported not sleeping well, having sleep problems, or feeling sleepy during the day had more biomarkers of Alzheimer's disease in their cerebrospinal fluid.

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison looked at the spinal fluid of 101 people with an average age of 63, and found that those who reported poor sleep quality had, on average, more markers of Alzheimer's disease - including amyloid and tau build-ups, brain-cell damage and inflammation.

The study doesn't prove whether or how disrupted sleep contributes to the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. People in the study who slept poorly for a week also had more of a protein called tau in their spinal fluid than they did when well rested. The sounds usually didn't wake the people up but kept them from getting any slow-wave sleep.

"There are things that we can all improve upon to get the best sleep that we are capable of", Ju said.