Poor Quality of Sleep Could Actually Lead to Alzheimer’s Disease

Young and middle-aged adults who suffer from insomnia, poor quality sleep and other sleeping disorders may be more likely to develop Alzheimer’s in later life, according to several studies.

Lack of sleep or waking up several times during the night may be bad for the brain and may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. While a sound night’s sleep has long been advised for a sound body, a new research study adds to a growing body of evidence linking sleep to brain health.

In one study, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore found that getting less sleep or sleeping poorly was tied to an increase in brain levels of beta-amyloid, a toxic protein that builds up and forms plaques in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s.

The researchers studied 70 older adults, average age 76, who were part of the ongoing Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Using brain scans, they found that those who said they got the least sleep, under five hours a night, or who slept fitfully had higher levels of beta-amyloid in the brain than those who slept over seven hours a night. The findings appeared in the journal JAMA Neurology.

The researchers couldn’t say whether poor sleep caused the accelerated buildup of beta-amyloid or whether beta-amyloid accumulation was a cause of poor sleep. It’s also possible that both may be true: That poor sleep may cause beta-amyloid accumulation, and that enhanced beta-amyloid in turn disrupts sleep. They called for further research to study the relationship, as well as studies “to determine whether optimizing sleep can prevent or slow Alzheimer’s disease progression.”

These findings are important, in part because sleep disturbances can be treated in older people,” said Dr. Adam Spira, the study’s lead author.

To the degree that poor sleep promotes the development of Alzheimer’s disease, treatments for poor sleep or efforts to maintain healthy sleep patterns may help prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

But poor sleep, as well as sleep apnea, is a common problem in the elderly. Just because you don’t sleep well doesn’t mean you will get Alzheimer’s disease.

A sound night’s sleep, though, may be a critical component of a healthy lifestyle – and might even help to keep Alzheimer’s at bay.