• Beta-amyloid plaques are located in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease
  • Impaired sleep is found to be associated with a higher rate of future beta-amyloid accumulation
  • Sleep pattern might forecast future Alzheimer's disease risk and progression

Sleep deprivation can dramatically lower one’s quality of life, especially if it prolongs. A new study says that a person’s current sleep patterns could predict the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as one ages. The researchers offer new hope to people who might be at risk of developing the commonest form of dementia. Deep, restorative sleep and plenty might be key to Alzheimer’s disease prevention.

Neuroscientists at UC Berkeley have found a way to estimate a time frame for when Alzheimer’s disease is most likely to strike in one’s lifetime, based on the way one sleeps. Their findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

"We have found that the sleep you’re having right now is almost like a crystal ball telling you when and how fast Alzheimer’s pathology will develop in your brain," said the study’s senior author Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience.

"The silver lining here is that there’s something we can do about it. The brain washes itself during deep sleep, and so there may be the chance to turn back the clock by getting more sleep earlier in life," he added.

The researchers matched the overnight sleep patterns of 32 otherwise-healthy older adults against the buildup of toxic plaque called "beta-amyloid" in their brains which is responsible for the onset, as well as, the progression of Alzheimer’s.

Their findings revealed that the study participants who started out with more fragmented and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) slow-wave sleep were highly likely to develop high amounts of beta-amyloid over time.

Non-rapid eye movement is dreamless sleep where the brain waves are typically slow and is the first phase of a night sleep which cycles through three non-REM stages and a REM period. During REM sleep, one’s eyes move quickly in different directions and this is when dreams typically happen.

The researchers were able to predict the increase in beta-amyloid plaques which marks the beginning of Alzheimer’s, based on the study participants’ sleep patterns.

Alongside predicting the time on the onset of Alzheimer’s, the findings of the study also reinforce the link between poor sleep and the disease. The researchers identify deep non-REM slow-wave sleep as the target of intervention against cognitive decline.

“If deep, restorative sleep can slow down this disease, we should be making it a major priority,” Winer said. “And if physicians know about this connection, they can ask their older patients about their sleep quality and suggest sleep as a prevention strategy,” said Joseph Winer the study’s co-lead author and a Ph.D. student at Walker’s Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley.

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