A few studies have concluded that chronic poor sleep in middle age may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or related dementias later in life. One of these studies was conducted by a team of neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley. In an interview, Matthew Walker, a psychology and neuroscience professor at UC Berkeley, stated, “We are now learning that there is a significant relationship between sleep and dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. There is something about…deep sleep that is helping protect you.”
While studies show mixed conclusions about the connection between light sleep and the prevention of cognitive decline, Walker says that the strongest evidence points to deep sleep being protective against dementia. Deep sleep is when the brain produces rhythmic, slow electrical waves, and the body temperature drops. In addition, decades of observational studies link subpar sleep with long-term cognitive issues.
Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep and Alzheimer’s
A study highlighted in Science Translational Medicine suggests that an absence of deep sleep causes higher levels of tau to be found in brain cells. Tau is a substance that forms “toxic tangles” inside brain cells and has a strong association with Alzheimer’s disease.
Changes in non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) might be an early indication of the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, scientists have hypothesized that analyzing sleep might be a useful preventative tool for monitoring patients at a higher risk of developing the disease.
Low Quality Sleep Might Increase Amyloid Levels in the Brain
Some research shows that levels of amyloid, a waste product and protein in the brain that has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, increase when sleep quality is low. One theory suggests that interrupted sleep might affect the body’s natural process of eliminating amyloid from the brain. Additionally, increased levels of amyloid protein might be linked to a decreased ability to store memories.
Another important study conducted by Dr. Yo-El Ju, a professor of neurology at Washington University, and the team concluded that beta-amyloid was cleared more effectively during deep sleep. The brain waves of patients with sleep apnea were studied before and after apnea treatment began.
Dr. Ju likened the ability of brain waves of deep sleep clearing out waste products to a dishwasher cleaning waste off of dishes. Another effect of deep sleep was that the brains of participants of this study began making less beta amyloid altogether. Dr. Ju states, “I don't know whether it's that sleep increases clearance or whether sleep decreases the production of waste products. Either way, sleep is important to brain health.”
Correlation Between Sleep and Alzheimer’s Disease
While sleep as it relates to dementia is a complicated topic without many definitive conclusions in the research, certain studies have found a correlation between poor sleep and Alzheimer’s disease.
Evidence-Based Elder Care in San Diego
We are committed to evidence-based care at MesaView Senior Assisted Living (as well as at our sister sites, HarborView Senior Assisted Living, RanchView Senior Assisted Living, and BayView Senior Assisted Living). Ensuring our care aligns with best practices and being familiar with relevant research is essential to the comprehensive, high-quality care we provide.