Poor sleep could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s in people who are otherwise healthy, research finds.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.
Scientists have found links between certain biological markers of Alzheimer’s and sleep disturbances.
Dr Barbara B. Bendlin, who led the study, said:
“Previous evidence has shown that sleep may influence the development or progression of Alzheimer’s disease in various ways.
For example, disrupted sleep or lack of sleep may lead to amyloid plaque build-up because the brain’s clearance system kicks into action during sleep.
Our study looked not only for amyloid but for other biological markers in the spinal fluid as well.”
The study was carried out on 101 people with an average age of 63.
All were at risk of Alzheimer’s, although none had any symptoms.
The results showed that those with the worst sleep quality also had biological markers of Alzheimer’s in their spinal fluid.
Dr Bendlin said:
“It’s important to identify modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s given that estimates suggest that delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in people by a mere five years could reduce the number of cases we see in the next 30 years by 5.7 million and save $367 billion in health care spending.”
Not everyone with sleep problems had the biological markers, though, said Dr Bendlin:
“It’s still unclear if sleep may affect the development of the disease or if the disease affects the quality of sleep.
More research is needed to further define the relationship between sleep and these biomarkers.
Improving sleep could be one way of helping to ward off Alzheimer’s, said Dr Bendlin:
“There are already many effective ways to improve sleep.
It may be possible that early intervention for people at risk of Alzheimer’s disease may prevent or delay the onset of the disease.”
The study was published in the journal Neurology (Sprecher et al., 2017).