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Oct 23rd, 2013

If you are one to skip out on the recommended 8 hours of sleep every night, you might want to reconsider that stance. A new study suggests that poor sleep habits are linked with symptoms in the brain often attributed to Alzheimer’s.

Sleep for Your Brain

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health were interested in the connection between quality of sleep and associated mental functions, like memory and attention span, as evidence from many studies had linked the two issues before.

Adam Spira, lead author of the study, explained the motivation behind the study in a Reuters Health article earlier this week: "We've known for a long time that people with Alzheimer's disease have really disturbed sleep patterns. People have wondered, well, is it possible that poor sleep is actually leading to cognitive decline?"

To answer that question, Spira and his team evaluated the brain scans of 70 adults between the ages of 53 and 91 years old. In addition to examining the brain, researchers questioned participants about their sleep habits: how many hours they slept nightly and  how often they woke up during the night or experienced other sleep disturbances.


The results of the evaluation were clear: for every hour that was eliminated from nightly sleep, the levels of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain rose. In addition, those who reported worse sleep quality also possessed significantly more beta-amyloids than those who slept well and for the appropriate number of hours. The findings were published in the October issue of JAMA Neurology and the researchers intend to further the investigation of this issue with more related studies.

Undisturbed sleep is vital to success and the Alzheimer’s Association has an entire page dedicated to the sleep issues that patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia experience, along with suggestions of how to improve sleep. This issue is widespread among those with dementia and other forms of cognitive decline, and scientists are pushing to dig deeper, understand the root cause, and potentially even prevent the problem from occurring.

The study itself does not prove that poor sleep causes the build up of beta-amyloid plaques, but rather that a good night’s sleep prevents the build up in the first place.

"It's exciting that our findings … may point to sleep disturbance as something that can be a modifiable risk factor that can be leveraged to prevent Alzheimer's disease," Spira said.

Sleep and Long Term Health

Getting the right amount of sleep is paramount to preventing a number of health conditions, like obesity, strokes, and heart attacks. The fact that it helps ward away dementia is not all that surprising, but the findings do hold the potential to help people make smarter decisions about their lifestyles in order to better control their health.

The prevalence of Alzheimer’s and dementia continues to climb in the United States, and the number of Alzheimer’s deaths has increased 68% between the years 2000 and 2010. The number of elderly individuals with Alzheimer’s is expected to triple in the next few decades, and taking steps to prevent this disease are becoming ever more important.

Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia often lead to a great deal of physical, emotional, and financial stress. Protecting your health when you are younger will help you avoid such a situation as you get older and the chance of cognitive decline increases. Read more about the global increase in Alzheimer’s or find out more about how to prepare for health expenses in old age.

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