Sleepless Nights? They May Cause More Than Just Fatigue

Tired business man with head and hands down on laptop

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One night of too little sleep might make you feel fatigued, irritable, groggy, and maybe even hungry, but studies show that the consequences of a night of poor sleep may be even more serious. Numerous research has shown that individuals with poor sleep patterns, or sleep apnea, are at an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. How does this happen? Let’s explore the possible explanations for this increased risk.

 

Disrupted Sleep May Not Allow the Brain to Clear Plaques

One possible explanation for the association between reduced sleep and increased risk for dementia is that without sleep the brain may be unable to clean and repair itself. Recently, researchers in Wisconsin conducted a study in which the participants slept in a controlled environment. They were either allowed to sleep normally or they had their sleep interrupted throughout the night, while researchers tracked the sleep. Then, in the morning, researchers analyzed participants’ spinal fluid to assess levels of biomarkers associated with Alzheimer’s.  What they found was astonishing!

Individuals who had slept poorly for this one night had higher levels of the protein amyloid. Amyloid is a naturally occurring protein found in the brain. However, if this protein reaches abnormal levels, it may clump and form plaque which can disrupt proper cell functioning and signaling in the brain. Researchers suggest these increased levels of amyloid in participants who had their sleep interrupted may be driven by the reduction of the time these individuals spent in slow wave or “deep sleep”. They hypothesize that the brain may use the deep sleep phase to clear out any excess of amyloid proteins. So without this deep sleep phase, these proteins may accumulate and lead to an increased risk of developing dementia.

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