Sleeping Patterns May Help Predict Onset of Alzheimer’s: Study

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A recent study suggests that a person’s sleeping patterns may help predict the time frame for when Alzheimer’s is most likely to occur during their lifetime.

According to an ANI report, the research, led by UC Berkeley neuroscientists Matthew Walker and Joseph Winer, indicates that there only a sufficient amount of deep and restorative sleep could work as a measure against this form of dementia which has no cure.

“We know there’s a connection between people’s sleep quality and what’s going on in the brain, in terms of Alzheimer’s disease. But what hasn’t been tested before is whether your sleep right now predicts what’s going to happen to your years later. And that’s the question we had.”
Joseph Winer, Lead Author of The Study

Alzheimer’s disease is responsible for damaging the memory pathways and brain functions of more than 40 million people worldwide.


What Was The Study?

The sleep quality of 32 healthy older adults was analysed in the study, and was compared to the corresponding levels of a toxic plaque called beta-amyloid in their brains. Beta-amyloid plays a major role in the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s.

The researchers focused on brain activity that occurred during slow wave sleep to assess sleep efficiency (which is defined as the time spent asleep over lying sleepless in bed).

The participants were in their 60s, 70s or 80s, and were part of the Berkeley Aging Cohort Study led by Public Health professor William Jagust, also a co-author in this latest study.

For this research, each participant spent an eight-hour night of sleep in Walker’s lab while undergoing polysomnography - tests that assess various parameters of sleep quality such as heart rate, blood oxygen levels and brain waves.


The multi-year study entailed a period tracking of the growth rate of beta-amyloid in the participant’s brains using PET scans.

It was observed that participants who exhibited more fragmented sleep and less non-REM (non-rapid eye movement) were most likely to display an increase in beta-amyloid buildup over the course of the study, linked to a greater chance of the disease.

What It Means

The results supported the researchers’ hypothesis that sleep quality is an indicator of the incidence of Alzheimer’s over a person’s lifetime. Using beta-amyloid build up as a marker, the neuroscientists were able to predict the onset of Alzheimer’s for a participant.

“Rather than waiting for someone to develop dementia many years down the road, we are able to assess how sleep quality predicts changes in beta-amyloid plaques across multiple timepoints. In doing so, we can measure how quickly this toxic protein accumulates in the brain over time, which can indicate the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Joseph Winer, Lead Author of The Study

The study also reinforces the link between sleep and the disease, and offers a lifestyle intervention to combat the illness. “If deep restorative sleep can slow down the illness, we should be making it a major priority,” said Winer, adding, “And if physicians know about this connection, they can ask their older patients about their sleep quality and suggest sleep as a prevention strategy.”

Winer and Walker are now looking towards the methods that can be implemented to boost the quality of sleep in persons at greater risk of Alzheimer’s. “Our hope is that if we intervene, then in three or four years, the buildup is no longer where we thought it would be because we improved their sleep,” Winer said.

(With inputs from ANI)

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Topics:  Sleep   Lack of Sleep   Sleep Benefits 

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