Sleep Disruption and Alzheimer’s

Research suggests a connection between disrupted sleep and Alzheimer’s

Bad sleep is related to poor health

These days, an awful lot of us are getting pretty awful sleep. According to a survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 35 percent of Americans rate the quality of their sleep as “poor” or “only fair.” A significant twenty percent of Americans say that they don’t wake up feeling refreshed.

The same survey reveals that people’s overall health is closely associated with the quality of their sleep. A sobering sixty-seven percent of people who reported less than good quality sleep also rated their general health as “poor or “only fair.”

Links between disrupted sleep and brain disorders

New medical research is suggesting links between disrupted sleep and degenerative brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s and dementia. Reuters Health recently published a story on the results of a study of the effect of slow-wave sleep disruption on the presence of a protein, called amyloid-β, that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The study measured the amount of amyloid-β present in the cerebro spinal fluid, and found higher levels in the fluid of people whose sleep was interrupted by a tone whenever a sensor detected deep sleep.

Another approach, measuring sleep quality for a week, showed that poor-quality sleep over time is associated with higher levels of tau, a different Alzheimer’s-associated protein.

Snoring and dementia

Time magazine published a story on a study that suggests a link between severe snoring and sleep apnea and earlier appearance of memory loss, and other symptoms of mild cognitive disorder (MCI). In this survey, which involved some 2,000 people who are enrolled in the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI). Researchers followed up with these people every six months for two to three years.

People reporting sleep apnea or snoring were shown to develop signs of MCI, including memory lapses and slower speed on cognitive skills tests, an average of 12 years earlier than those who reported no sleep-disordered breathing. The researchers adjusted for effects of the effects of Alzheimer’s-related genes, gender, education, depression and heart disease risk factors, all of which have been associated with increased risk of cognitive decline. The article reports that the connection between disrupted sleep breathing and MCI remained strong ever after accounting for those factors.

Don’t panic, but do get medical advice

Now, all this does not mean that we should lose even more sleep fretting about dementia and Alzheimer’s just because we had one or two bad nights. But, bear in mind that the quality of sleep can change as people’s daytime circumstances evolve, and that sleep patterns can gradually change throughout our lives. These changes can come about very slowly, and we might have a tendency to accept them as normal, or even to deny that something is different.

So, take some time to consider the quality of your sleep. If you find yourself sleeping less than the optimal seven to eight hours a night, or if your sleep is interrupted by snoring, insomnia or frequent brief episodes of waking, take some time to document what’s happening and how you feel in general, and discuss the situation with your doctor. You might learn that your experience doesn’t add up to something to worry about. Or, your doctor might offer a referred to a sleep specialist for further investigation.

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