It is no secret that having sleepless nights frequently isn’t good for one’s brain and body. The side effects of sleep deprivation might however extend even farther than doctors realized up to this point, new research shows.
According to a new study published in the Neurology journal, people who report having frequent sleep issues may be at greater risk for Alzheimer's disease. The research included 101 participants whose memories and thinking ability were sound. They did, however, present risk factors for Alzheimer's disease such as family history carrying the Alzheimer's genes. These people were asked to fill out a survey about their sleep patterns and quality. The participants were then also subjected to spinal fluid tests so that the researchers could analyze the samples and look for Alzheimer’s markers.
The researchers looked specifically for amyloid and tau-protein, which have been found to be responsible for the cell damage and inflammation as well as the plaques and tangles that have often been observed in the brains of patients who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers were thus able to find a connection between the survey data and the fluid test results. According to their findings, those who reported having sleep problems, poor sleep or frequent sleepiness during the day, were also the ones more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
The reason for this, the study's author says, could be that disrupted sleep could prevent one’s brain from effectively clearing out these harmful protein strains, allowing them to build up and cause the disease.
One must note, however, that while the research seems to show a link between sleep quality and Alzheimer's disease, the researchers can’t clearly state whether the poor sleep caused the Alzheimer’s markers to develop or if the latent disease is actually causing the participants’ sleepless nights.
It is also worth pointing out that the participants were chosen because they were already at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s, and even then, not all of those who reported sleep disruptions tested positive for Alzheimer's markers.
What this study does show is that sleep and Alzheimer's are in fact related, in one way or another. And if one can improve sleep quality, they should definitely try to do it, with the help of relaxation techniques or medication, for example.
And even if future research finds that poor sleep isn’t in fact a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, sleeping well brings many other benefits, including better moods, more energy and an improvement in productivity.