Alzheimer’s is a scary debilitating disease that systematically destroys the brain over a period of time. We still don’t know exactly what causes Alzheimer’s or what the full extent of its damage is but new research points to sleepless nights.
A few years ago the University of Rochester reported that our brains use sleep to clear out toxins. The brain has a system much like the lymphatic system our veins use to get rid of toxic build up and other waste produced by organs and other bodily processes.
Not All Proteins Are Good
Without the proper amount of sleep every night we are put at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The problem is a sticky protein called beta amyloid, which builds up when the brain isn’t given the chance to clear out the problematic gunk.
“It’s very clear that sleep disruption is an underappreciated factor,” says Dr. Matthew Walker of the University of California, Berkeley, who presented data linking amyloid levels with people’s sleep and memory performance.
“It’s a new player on the scene that increases risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Dr. David Holtzman of Washington University in St. Louis reports similar data found in studies using mice. He found that amyloid production is highest during waking hours and lowest during deep sleep. When they deprived mice of sleep the toxic protein started to build up and once the deposits started the mice started to stay awake longer on their own accord.
New research is showing that problems getting sleep interact with disease processes involved with Alzheimer’s. Not getting sleep encourages the build-up of toxic proteins, and the proteins affect your ability to achieve deep sleep, vital for memory formation.
“It may be a vicious cycle,” said Dr. Miroslaw Mackiewicz of the National Institute on Aging.
One big overarching problem of not knowing what causes Alzheimer’s disease is that the Baby Boomer’s are starting to turn 70. More than 5 million Americans already live with Alzheimer’s and this is expected to more than double by 2050.
It is now noted that Alzheimer’s development starts 20 years before memory lapses. Scientist are now studying the effect certain drugs have in people who are at high risk of developing the disease. While looking for a preventative drug may even lead to a cure, there is a preventable treatment right now.
“Sleep is a modifiable factor. It’s a new treatment target,” Walker said. Throughout our lives we need 7-8 hours of sleep each night. That’s just fact. We may get less after stressful jobs are acquired, family’s are formed, and health concerns or other family matters appear, but we still should be getting the requisite amount.
Seven To Eight Hours
Scientists have long associated “not-enough sleep” with trouble learning and focusing. Dr. Walker’s team PET scanned 26 cognitively healthy volunteers in their 70s while they slept. The scans were to see the effects of amyloid build-up on the brain.
The volunteers were given words to memorize and their brain waves were measured overnight. The more amyloid people harbored in a particular region of the brain, the less deep sleep they got. And the more they forgot overnight.
Memories Not Fully Transferred
Overnight, the amyloid created a communication breakdown between the brain’s short-term memory bank and long-term storage. This presents a big risk: not getting enough sleep starts the brain in a negative spiral of impairment and self-destruction.
“There are lots of risk factors we might be able to change. Sleep is one,” said Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer Maria Carrillo. Together, she said, the new research emphasizes how “sleep is critical as we age.”
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