A powerful new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, has found a consistent link between poor sleep quality and increased accumulation of toxic proteins,media reported. Toxic proteins are thought to be the pathological cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers believe that distracted sleep may be an effective early way to predict high-risk populations of neurodegenerative diseases.
Over the past few years, much research has focused on the relationship between sleep and neurodegenerative diseases. Irregular sleep and fragmented sleep times are well-known symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, and some researchers are beginning to suggest that poor sleep may be not just a consequence of neurodegenerative changes associated with the disease, but a potential cause.
Studies in animals and humans have shown that a night’s sleep disruption alone can increase the accumulation of toxic proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers also found that the deep, slow-wave phase of sleep is a key mechanism for the brain to remove toxic proteins.
“In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, we know that people’s sleep quality is linked to what happens in the brain,” said Joseph Winer, lead author of the new study. That is the problem we face. “
To do this, the researchers recruited 32 cognitively healthy adults in their 70s who initially spent the night in the lab to allow the researchers to record baseline sleep behavior. Over the next few years, the subjects needed regular PET scans to track the growth of amyloid plaques in their brains.
The study found a clear correlation between participants’ baseline sleep quality following the accumulation of amyloid plaques over the next few years. In particular, the results show that fragmented sleep and the decrease in the volume of non-REM (rapid eye movement) slow-wave sleep indicate the largest increase in amyloid plaques.
Matthew Walker, senior author of the new study, said: “Effectively measuring sleep can help us move into the future and assess the build-up of amyloid proteins. “
Notably, the new study only looked at older people with cognitive health. So while this study does provide evidence that sleep disruption can predict future accumulation of amyloid plaques, it does not provide evidence that these specific aggregations directly lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, even if only mildly.
The next step in the study is whether interventions to improve sleep quality directly affect the accumulation of amyloid plaques. To see if improving sleep behavior in middle-term subjects can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers need to conduct long-term studies.
“We hope that if we intervene, after three or four years, as we improve their sleep, their sleep accumulation will not be what we thought it would be, ” says Winer. If deep, restorative sleep can slow down the disease, we should prioritize sleep. If doctors are aware of this link, they can ask older patients about the quality of their sleep and suggest sleep as a preventive strategy. “