Poor Sleep Linked to Alzheimer’s-related Plaque

Brain plaque buildup seen in sleep-deprived older adults

clock underneath a blanket

Getting a good night’s sleep is even better for you than you think.

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A new study involving older adults suggests not getting enough sleep, or having poor, interrupted sleep, may be linked to the buildup in the brain of abnormal protein called beta-amyloid plaque, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

This study is consistent with the findings of research on mice that was released recently. Both studies showed that sleep can help “wash out” waste products in the brain, including beta-amyloid plaque.

Sleep helps ‘clean’ the brain

Charles Bae, MD, was not involved in either study but treats sleep disorders at Cleveland Clinic.

He says the new human study shows that the participants who had less than five hours of sleep had more amounts of beta-amyloid built up in their brains.

“More research needs to be done on this particular link, but this is yet more good evidence of the importance of sleep for the brain and for overall health,” Dr. Bae says.

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“During sleep the brain cleans itself, washing out toxic metabolic byproducts, like beta-amyloid,” says Dr. Bae. “The recent study in mice showed that beta-amyloid is removed twice as fast during sleep than during waking hours.”

Study finds buildup of Alzheimer’s-related plaque

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health asked 70 adults aged 53 to 91 years to report on how much they slept each night and how often they woke up or otherwise had interrupted sleep.

The participants then underwent brain imaging where the abnormal amounts of proteins were found in those who reported trouble sleeping.

The study researchers say more studies will be needed to determine if sleep disturbances actually cause or accelerate Alzheimer’s disease, but add that other studies have shown a link between poor sleep and cognitive impairment in older adults.

Dr. Bae agrees. “The connection is real,” he says, noting that untreated sleep apnea has been linked, too, to risk of dementia.

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Lack of sleep and health risks

Five or fewer hours of sleep isn’t enough, says Dr. Bae, and the notion that as you get older you need less sleep isn’t true.

“People make the mistake of thinking they just need enough sleep to ‘get by,’” he says. “Short sleepers, no matter their age, may not be as healthy.”

Lack of sleep has been linked to weight gain and increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and depression. Dr. Bae suggests bringing up any sleep problems — including not getting enough sleep, snoring, stopping breathing during sleep, waking up multiple times — you have to your doctor.

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