A new study claims that sleep deprivation, even in the form of just one sleepless night, is linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Sleep, or more specifically the lack of it, has been previously linked to the dreaded illness. It's just one of the many possible answers to the question of what causes Alzheimer's disease.
Sleep Deprivation And Alzheimer's Disease: Study Proves Link
The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved 20 participants who were allowed to sleep at the clinical testing center of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. In the morning after, the researchers took positron emission tomography, or PET, scans of the subjects, with ages ranging from 22 years old to 72 years old, to monitor the protein in their brains.
Around two weeks after, the participants were brought back to spend another night in the center. However, for the second time around, a nurse woke up the subjects every hour. They again went through PET scans after 31 hours into the sleep deprivation.
The results from the scans revealed that in 19 out of the 20 participants, their brains contained a higher level of beta-amyloid after their sleepless night, compared to when they were able to sleep peacefully.
The formation of beta-amyloid is significant because this is the protein that doctors look for when diagnosing Alzheimer's disease though PET scans. All brains regularly produce beta-amyloid as a precursor to other kinds of protein, and the theory is that sleep removes the beta-amyloid build-up. People with Alzheimer's disease, however, have constantly significant levels of beta-amyloid in their brains.
Sleep vs. Alzheimer's Disease
The results of the study did not return beta-amyloid levels that are high enough compared to what is found in patients with Alzheimer's disease. It is also unclear if the sleeplessness caused the increased production of the beta-amyloids, or if one of the sleep deprivation effects is the shutdown of the process that cleans up the brain. In addition, it is unknown if the beta-amyloid will accumulate over a long period of sleep deprivation, leading to the development of Alzheimer's disease and symptoms of dementia.
What is clear, however, is there is a link between sleep and beta-amyloids, and indirectly, Alzheimer's disease. Previous studies showed that sleepiness in the day and poor sleeping patterns may already be signs of Alzheimer's disease.
Of course, the point of understanding what causes the dreaded condition is to search for the answer to the more important question: how to prevent Alzheimer's disease.