Did you know that sleep deprivation can raise your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease?
In fact, research shows that just one sleepless night can cause a build-up of a specific protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease.1
In the study which included 20 people, researchers from The National Institutes of Health discovered that a night without sleep correlates with an increase in beta-amyloid protein levels by five percent.
To put that into perspective, people who suffer from mild memory loss often have as much as 21 percent more beta-amyloid in their brains than healthy adults in the same age category. People who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease have as much as 43 percent more beta-amyloid.
Previous animal studies have shown similar findings; however, this is the first human study to show changes in the brain linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Adequate sleep is crucial for the removal of beta-amyloid, which can build up and cause clumps in the brain, blocking vital memory pathways.
And while the increase in beta-amyloid is a significant finding, researchers are unclear if the changes are long lasting or if they are only seen the day following a restless night.
Dr. Ehsan Shokri-Kojori, from the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, and the study’s lead author said: “Often brain changes seen in animals are not replicated in humans, so this is interesting.” He went on to say, “the increase in beta-amyloid we saw in the brains of people who were sleep-deprived is likely to be a harmful process, a reasonable prediction based on these results would be that poorer sleep habits create a risk for Alzheimer's disease.”
The study involved examining the effects of sleep deprivation on 20 otherwise healthy individuals between the ages of 22 and 72 over the course of two nights.
The first night, the participants were allowed to sleep from 10pm to 7am and on the second night they were kept awake the entire night.
Brain scan were performed afterward to document the ‘significant increase’ in beta-amyloid proteins in two areas of the brain commonly affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
One area, the hippocampus is important to memory and the other area the thalamus is a relay center for both motor and sensory information.
After the sleepless night, there was a five percent increase in the level of beta-amyloid when compared to the night of regular sleep. These findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers theorize that sleep plays a key role in removing waste from the brain, including beta-amyloid protein.
“Even though our sample was small, this study demonstrated the negative effect of sleep deprivation on beta-amyloid burden in the human brain,”
Dr. Ehsan Shokri-Kojori says, “Future studies are needed to assess the generalizability to a larger and more diverse population.”
This research provides new insight about the potentially harmful effects of a lack of sleep on the brain and has implications for better characterizing the pathology of Alzheimer's disease,” says Dr. George F. Koob, director of NIAAA.
More studies are needed to uncover the exact mechanism underlying the observed increase in beta-amyloid.
However, it’s also important to note that the link between sleep disorders and Alzheimer’s risk may actually go both ways.
Elevated beta-amyloid may also lead to trouble sleeping.