How Poor Sleep Quality May Contribute to Alzheimer’s

“Sleep is the best meditation.” — Dalai Lama

We all know how important sleep is, but could poor sleep quality really influence diminishing neural health?

According to new research, when experiencing prolonged periods of poor sleep, levels of proteins rise. More specifically, levels of amyloid-beta and tau — key hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

It appears that quality is the root cause, not necessarily quality.

Poor Sleep Quality May Play a Role in the Development of Alzheimer’s

Based on this recent study, published in Brain, it appears that poor sleep quality, as well as the disruption of slow-wave sleep both play a role.

Slow-wave sleep is often referred to as deep sleep, producing waves with a frequency of less than 1 Hz. During this time, the neocortical neurons are able to rest. As seen within this study, deep sleep is also critical for lowering levels of amyloid overnight.

If you were to extrapolate these findings, representing years of poor sleep, one’s risk increases. Essentially, if you’re not experiencing quality sleep chronically, the risk that amyloid and tau proteins would clump together increases.

Here is a brief overview of the study itself:

  • Healthy participants were between the ages of 35 and 65, each undergoing two sleep experiments — spread out one month apart.
  • During this experiment, participants also completed an at-home sleep diary. Tracking their sleep for a period between five days and two weeks, these individuals also wore sensors to track movements.
  • At the end of the study period, each participant then slept over in the lab. Their brain waves were tracked and then the following morning, a spinal tap was taken.
  • During their time in the lab, all participants wore headphones. Some individuals experienced no noise, while others were played a series of beeping sounds once they entered slow-wave sleep. The goal was to not awaken them, but simply disrupt their deep sleep.
  • Of those who showed a response when disrupted, they showcased average beta amyloid levels that were 10 percent higher when the beeping was played. The more one’s sleep was disrupted, the more amyloid beta levels increased.
  • Interesting, in the lab, tau levels were not shown to change. As discussed by one of the co-authors, this wasn’t surprising. Tau proteins take longer to change, which is why there was a clear cause and effect within the data collected from at-home experimentation. Although the proportion of time in bed did not influence beta-amyloid, it did increase tau levels. Meaning, poor sleep quality may be directly linked to increasing tau levels.

Are You Not Sleeping Well?

It’s important to note, that at this time, these findings do not necessarily mean that poor sleep = Alzheimer’s. This small study didn’t test how many participants went on to develop the disease, but it did show a biological link between sleep and the proteins involved in Alzheimer’s.

Regardless, in order to achieve optimal health, you need to focus on sleep quality. Just as important as your diet in terms of your overall wellbeing, if you’re struggling to sleep, you may experience:

  • A reduction in performance, increasing your risk of accidents or injury.
  • Cognitive impairment, including your ability to process information.
  • Increasing levels of stress, creating a vicious cycle.
  • Rising blood pressure, weight gain, or even symptoms of depression when suffering from long-term sleep deprivation.

On that note, please consider the following:

  • In order to sleep better, you need to first acknowledge that there’s an issue. Look for key signs, trusting the way you feel. Do you wake up after a full night’s rest feeling fatigued? Do you feel as though you need to fuel your body with coffee all day? Do you lack concentration and appear to be moody? Listen to your body!
  • Depending on the severity of your insomnia, you may want to contact a certified sleep expert. They will help you retrain your body and mind, focusing on aspects of your lifestyle and sleeping environment. In some cases, individuals even seek Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in order to enhance sleep efficiency.
  • Target feelings of anxiety and stress. If you go to bed with a lot on your mind, you may find you’re tossing and turning far too often than you’d like. There are plenty of options throughout the day, including relaxation exercises, journaling, or practicing positive thinking.

If you believe that you’re experiencing cognitive impairment due to another possible factor, and are concerned about your current neural health, be sure to check out SAGE. This self-administered exam can help you detect possible early warning signs of dementia.

You can also learn how this scientifically-validated exam led to the development of BrainTest.

At the end of the day, we all have choices to make. We can take care of ourselves, focusing on a proactive approach — or we can ignore our health until issues arise. In the case of Alzheimer’s, it’s clear that preventative measures and early intervention are critical for a more positive prognosis.

That means, taking action today in terms of a healthy lifestyle. It also means that if you believe something is abnormal, seeking a professional opinion immediately. After all, “ A diagnosis is not the end — but the beginning of practice.”

The takeaway today is: Although a balanced lifestyle is key, if you’re not sleeping well, this is something you need to address immediately. If you’re willing to put in the effort to improve your mental and physical health, you will be amazed by what you can achieve in return.

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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