New study reveals how having too many sleepless nights could spark Alzheimer's disease
We all have a sleepless night from time to time. It can literally be a night without sleep, one in which you wake up multiple times, or even a long sleep that doesn't leave you feeling rested. However, some undoubtedly have it worse than others, with a variety of factors having an effect - from physical pain and discomfort to mental health issues to a stressful work life.
There are plenty of reasons to get a good night's sleep, but you can add a new one to that list: it might help you avoid Alzheimer's Disease.
A recent study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, assessed twenty participants after depriving them of sleep. The group, aged between 22 and 72, were allowed to sleep from 10pm to 7am on one night, while they were kept up all night on the second. After the second, their brain scans showed a "significant increase" in beta-amyloid, a potentially harmful protein.
Buildups of this protein can affect the hippocampus, which plays a key role in memory, and the thalamus - which acts as a relay point for motor and sensory nerve signals. Both these regions of the brain are often damaged in Alzheimer's patients. According to the study, sleep is part of a natural "waste disposal" system that clears any material that may be harmful out of the brain - including the amyloid-beta protein.
Those with mild memory loss have 21 percent more beta-amyloid in their brains than others, while those with Alzheimer's have 43 percent more. After this sleepless night, the protein saw a five percent increase in the subjects' brains, which could block important pathways. However, it is unclear whether the effects of a sleepless night have effects beyond the day afterwards.
Dr Ehsan Shokri-Kojori, from the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, was the study's lead author. "The increase in beta-amyloid we saw in the brains of people who were sleep-deprived is likely to be a harmful process," he said. "A reasonable prediction based on these results would be that poorer sleep habits create a risk for Alzheimer's disease."
It's not just this study that has brought up the link between sleep and memory before, as researchers into Alzheimer's have questioned this connection before. There have been other studies that have shown similar changes in mice, but this is the first to do so in the human brain. Dr. David Reynolds, a chief scientific officer at Alzheimer's Research UK, said:
"There is growing evidence of a link between disrupted sleep and Alzheimer's disease, but it is difficult to tease apart cause and effect to determine whether sleep problems might cause Alzheimer's brain changes or vice-versa.
"This very small study suggests that one night of sleep deprivation can raise levels of the hallmark Alzheimer's protein amyloid, strengthening suggestions that sleep is important for limiting the build-up of this protein in the brain."
If the link between this is true, it means there is even more reason to get some rest at the end of a hard day's work. If the connection isn't as strong as this research team believes, it's still worth getting a full night of sleep for your own physical and mental health.