How you sleep today may predict when Alzheimer’s disease begins

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

In a new study, researchers found one defense against Alzheimer’s sleep —for which no treatment currently exists—is deep, restorative sleep, and plenty of it.

They found a way to estimate, with some degree of accuracy, a time frame for when Alzheimer’s is most likely to strike in a person’s lifetime.

They found that the sleep people are having right now is almost like a crystal ball telling them when and how fast Alzheimer’s pathology will develop in your brain.

The silver lining here is that there’s something people can do about it. The brain washes itself during deep sleep, and so there may be a chance to turn back the clock by getting more sleep earlier in life.

The research was conducted by a team from the University of California, Berkeley.

In the study, the team matched the overnight sleep quality of 32 healthy older adults against the buildup in their brains of the toxic plaque known as beta-amyloid, a key player in the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s, which destroys memory pathways and other brain functions and afflicts more than 40 million people worldwide.

Their findings show that the people who started out experiencing more fragmented sleep and less non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) slow-wave sleep were most likely to show an increase in beta-amyloid over the course of the study.

Although all participants remained healthy throughout the study period, the trajectory of their beta-amyloid growth correlated with baseline sleep quality.

The researchers were able to forecast the increase in beta-amyloid plaques, which are thought to mark the beginning of Alzheimer’s.

In addition to predicting the time it is likely to take for the onset of Alzheimer’s, the results reinforce the link between poor sleep and the disease, which is particularly critical in the face of a tsunami of aging baby boomers on the horizon.

While previous studies have found that sleep cleanses the brain of beta-amyloid deposits, these new findings identify deep non-REM slow-wave sleep as the target of intervention against cognitive decline.

And though genetic testing can predict one’s inherent susceptibility to Alzheimer’s, and blood tests offer a diagnostic tool, neither offers the potential for a lifestyle therapeutic intervention that sleep does, the researchers point out.

If deep, restorative sleep can slow down this disease, scientists should be making it a major priority.

And if physicians know about this connection, they can ask their older patients about their sleep quality and suggest sleep as a prevention strategy.

One author of the study is UC Berkeley neuroscientist Matthew Walker

The study is published in Current Biology.

Copyright © 2020 Knowridge Science Report. All rights reserved.