Almost everyone these days could use more sleep. But, Alzheimer’s disease and sleep is now apparently a special concern for the elderly and their family members. With over 5 million Americans currently suffering from Alzheimer’s, and that number is expected to double within ten years, researchers are trying to determine additional risk factors in order to attempt new treatment methods. Dr. Matthew Walker of the University of California, Berkeley, recently discussed the link between sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a buildup of the protein known as beta-amyloid as well as the tangled fibers of the protein called tau. These sticky, brain-clogging proteins build up inside of spaces between nerve cells as well as inside cells. New research revealed that sleep deprivation can spur these proteins to grow and further cause disruption in the sleep cycle. This vicious cycle results in an accumulation of the Alzheimer’s causing plaques and tangles and has been linked to poor memory.
Dr. Walker’s team discovered during its research that sleep problems can interact with the Alzheimer’s disease process. This information helps to explain how the plaque and tangles can begin to damage the brain long before symptoms and problems develop. The good news is that sleep is modifiable and researchers are looking at improving people’s sleeping patterns as a new form of treatment. Certain sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, contribute to the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, but treatment is available to correct these disorders.