Your Current Sleep Pattern May Increase Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Later in Life

According to new research, if you suffer from restless nights and drowsy days, this could be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s. The link between poor sleep and cognitive decline is well-defined. This has led to concerns regarding neurodegenerative conditions.

Study Finds Poor Sleep Cycles May Be An Early Warning Sign of Alzheimer’s

As published in JAMA Neurology, disruptive sleep patterns may be a sign of Alzheimer’s. Numerous studies have focused on this relationship in the past, finding a connection between dementia and poor sleep. It is clear that circadian issues occur in symptomatic Alzheimer’s. However, it is unknown whether these changes occur within the presymptomatic phase.

Within this recent study, the researchers were interested in whether or not preclinical Alzheimer’s was associated with circadian disturbances. Since this disease may begin 15 to 20 years before symptoms of Alzheimer’s become apparent, possible interventions are a key area of interest.

This study tracked the sleep cycles of 189 cognitively healthy adults. These participants were volunteers from the Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Washington University. Between 2010 and 2012, these participants underwent 7 to 14 days of actigraphy within their home.

Actigraphy is a non-invasive method of monitoring human sleep/activity cycles. A small unit is worn for a week or more, measuring motor activity. The participants also underwent a clinical assessment, amyloid imaging, and cerebrospinal fluid biomarker collection.

In summary:

  • The average age of the participants was 66.6 years old.
  • 64 percent of the participants were women.
  • After accounting for age and sex, rest-activity rhythm fragmentation was associated with preclinical Alzheimer’s.
  • Circadian dysfunction was also associated with aging, independent of Alzheimer’s pathology. This was particularly the case in men.
  • The researchers concluded that circadian dysfunction could contribute to the early development of Alzheimer’s or it may serve as a biomarker of preclinical disease.

Alzheimer’s Risk and Chronic Lack of Sleep

In August 2017, another key study was published in Brain. Researchers at Standford University, Washington University School of Medicine and Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands, found that a poor night’s rest may potentially increase amyloid beta levels.

Their findings showed that changes in slow wave activity resulted in a 10 percent increase in amyloid beta. This was found after just one night of interrupted sleep. After several nights of bad rest, tau levels had also risen. They concluded that chronic poor sleep during middle age may increase one’s risk of Alzheimer’s later in life.

As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 3 adults do not get enough sleep. They have even stated that sleep deprivation is currently a “public health epidemic” that is linked to diabetes, depression, obesity, cancer, and hypertension.

How Can I Improve My Body’s Natural Sleep-Wake Cycle?

Although it may seem as though your poor sleep habits are out of your control, researchers have identified various practices and habits that can help improve sleep quality.

As stated by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, you can actively intervene by addressing the following areas.

  • Limit caffeine six hours before bedtime and avoid drinking alcohol within three hours of your regular bedtime.
  • Create a sleep-inducing environment that is dark, quiet, and cool.
  • Develop a pre-sleep routine that promotes relaxation.
  • Do not watch the clock. If you have a habit of doing so, turn the clock’s face away from you.
  • Natural light supports a healthy sleep-wake cycle. In the morning, let light in and during your work day, head outside for a quick sun break during lunch.
  • Eat lighter evening meals and avoid eating too late. Also, balance your fluid intake.
  • Exercise is highly encouraged but you should finish exercising at least three hours before bed.

The key is consistency. Follow through with new daily and nightly routines that promote positive sleep. If you continue to struggle with your sleep routine, it is important to speak with your doctor. They may refer you to a sleep clinic so that you can better address any contributing factors.

Please refer to the following resources for more information:

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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