Poor sleep is a channel through which Alzheimer’s disease can be triggered, a new study finds.
Professor Matthew Walker, one of the neuroscientist who authored the study, said:
“This discovery offers hope.
Sleep could be a novel therapeutic target for fighting back against memory impairment in older adults and even those with dementia.”
The study is one of the first to look at human rather than animal subjects in this way.
Professor William Jagust, a leading expert on Alzheimer’s disease who co-led the study, said:
“Over the past few years, the links between sleep, beta-amyloid, memory, and Alzheimer’s disease have been growing stronger.
Our study shows that this beta-amyloid deposition may lead to a vicious cycle in which sleep is further disturbed and memory impaired.”
For the research, 26 older people without dementia were given memory tests and had their brains scanned before and after sleep.
Professor Walker explained:
“The more you remember following a good night of sleep, the less you depend on the hippocampus and the more you use the cortex.
It’s the equivalent of retrieving files from the safe storage site of your computer’s hard drive, rather than the temporary storage of a USB stick.
The more beta-amyloid you have in certain parts of your brain, the less deep sleep you get and, consequently, the worse your memory.
Additionally, the less deep sleep you have, the less effective you are at clearing out this bad protein.
It’s a vicious cycle.
But we don’t yet know which of these two factors — the bad sleep or the bad protein — initially begins this cycle. Which one is the finger that flicks the first domino, triggering the cascade?”
Dr Bryce Mander, study’s lead author, said:
“The data we’ve collected are very suggestive that there’s a causal link.
If we intervene to improve sleep, perhaps we can break that causal chain.”
This ties in with evidence of how sleep fights toxins in the brain.
Professor Walker said:
“Sleep is helping wash away toxic proteins at night, preventing them from building up and from potentially destroying brain cells,.
It’s providing a power cleanse for the brain.
The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience (Walker et al., 2015).
→ Explore PsyBlog’s ebooks, all written by Dr Jeremy Dean:
Alzheimer’s photo from Shutterstock