Extreme Daytime Drowsiness Could Be An Early Warning Sign of Alzheimer’s

Here at BrainTest, we would like to do our part to spread awareness on brain health. Our weekly blog and Knowledge Center focus on the latest in brain health and Alzheimer’s research. 

Today’s topic: How sleep influences neural health. 

For years, researchers have studied the connection between sleep patterns and Alzheimer’s risk, especially in terms of early warning signs.

In a new study, researchers from the Department of Radiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester discovered that elderly individuals who suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness may be at risk of Alzheimer’s.

Excessive Daytime Drowsiness and Alzheimer’s Risk

Interested in the relationship between excessive daytime sleepiness and neurodegenerative symptoms, this recent study is the first of its kind. Published in JAMA, it was found that when experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness, this may lead to a buildup of amyloid-beta.

As stated by the lead author, “We know that sleep is necessary to clear toxins and beta-amyloid in the brain.” It is also well understood that the presence of beta-amyloid can disrupt sleep patterns.

This has led researchers to wonder whether amyloid-beta causes sleep issues — or if sleep issues increase amyloid-beta levels. In other words, this relationship has long been a case of which came first, the chicken or the egg?

For this study, the goal was to determine whether excessive daytime drowsiness causes increased levels of amyloid-beta across time in people without dementia. Based on key requirements, the initial sample of 2,172 people was further reduced to 283 participants. The average age of this sample is 77 years old.

The Results

To be included in the study, the participants underwent a baseline scan and completed a sleep quality questionnaire. In order to be accepted, they were required to be certified free of dementia. This was determined by a team of specialists who administered a range of cognitive tests.

Throughout the study, the researchers measured the buildup of amyloid-beta in the participants’ brains across time. These levels were then compared to self-reported levels of daytime sleepiness. What they found was that subjects who experienced the most daytime sleepiness were shown to have greater amyloid-beta levels across the two-year study period.

This was particularly the case in regions of the brain responsible for memory, behavior, and emotion. What is exciting about these longitudinal findings is that this is the first study to show evidence in humans. Most of the related research has come from mice. In the future, the researchers plan to address the role of sleep stages, as well as the role of various sleep conditions, including obstructive sleep apnea.

Common Sleep Changes Among Alzheimer’s Patients

For those living with Alzheimer’s, it is important for both you and your caregivers to understand key changes in sleep patterns. Although more common in the later stages, the research also supports the fact that sleep disturbances may occur in the early stages of this disease.

For example:

  • You may experience an overall difficulty when trying to sleep. Not only do Alzheimer’s patients wake up more often, they also stay awake longer. This can lead to wandering, a common nighttime symptom that can be dangerous if not managed properly.

  • Daytime napping may become more common. For example, patients may feel tired throughout the day and as a result, are unable to sleep at night. This type of shift in one’s sleep-wake cycle can cause what is known as sundowning. This occurs when patients become rather agitated and restless in the afternoon or early evening.

Tips to Follow When Experiencing Sleep Changes

If you would like to address sleep changes without the use of medication, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends that you:

  • Maintain a regular schedule for meals and bedtime

  • Allow natural sunlight to come in

  • Encourage regular exercise, but do not perform any exercise within four hours of going to bed

  • Avoid substances such as nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine

  • Treat any ongoing pain

  • Be mindful of a comfortable room temperature

  • Provide nightlights and security objects

  • Discourage watching television during periods of wakefulness

  • If the individual is taking a cholinesterase inhibitor, avoid giving them this medication before bed

For more information on the connection between sleep and Alzheimer’s, please refer to the following articles:

If you are currently concerned about potential early warning signs, it is important that you take proactive action. Our scientifically-validated app can help you detect these warnings signs, supporting an early diagnosis. Try it for free today!

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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