Sleep Loss May Cause Alzheimer’s

Sleep Loss May Cause Alzheimer’s

It is now believed that when you sleep, your brain cleanses itself of debris, similar to erasing chalk off a blackboard.

A huge amount of information is absorbed by your brain each day. This includes about 23 words per second or 105,000 words during 12 waking hours. With most of this information coming from cell phone, computer and television, researchers at the University of California-San Diego estimate that the human brain experiences the equivalent of 34 gigabytes of information per day.

It turns out that sleep may not only allow the brain to re-boot itself but doing so could be an essential part of maintaining future cognitive health, particularly against Alzheimer’s disease.

Brain Erasure

Scientists have discovered that the brain possesses a self-scrubbing ability.

A study funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the NIH (National Institutes of Health) found that,

“A good night’s rest may literally clear the mind. Using mice, researchers showed for the first time that the space between brain cells may increase during sleep, allowing the brain to flush out toxins that build up during waking hours. These results suggest a new role for sleep in health and disease.”

This finding confirms many previous studies that link this flushing out activity to possibly being able to prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and other dementia related diseases.

A Vicious Cycle

It has been found that one of the major suspected causes of Alzheimer’s disease is the accumulation of a toxic protein called beta-amyloid. Studies are showing that this protein, if not adequately removed by the brain during deep sleep, could eventually affect falling into a deep sleep in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle that scientists are trying to determine what it is caused by.

Researchers from UC Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, the School of Public Health and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory used positron emission tomography (PET) scans to document beta-amyloid deposits; functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to log memory brain activity during memory testing assignments; and an electroencephalographic (EEG) to measure sleeping brain waves.

Statistical models were created to analyze the data from these three procedures which showed that, according to UC Berkeley neuroscience professor Matthew Walker, senior author of the study which was also published in the journal Nature Neuroscience,

“The more beta-amyloid you have in certain parts of your brain, the less deep sleep you get and, consequently, the worse your memory,…Additionally, the less deep sleep you have, the less effective you are at clearing out this bad protein. It’s a vicious cycle.”

This link is giving great promise to the future of many more studies to attempt to understand and control the debilitating affects of Alzheimer’s.

The Potential Fix

As data continues being shared amongst scientists, the simple act of sleeping could be a potential fix for cognitive degeneration.

Poor sleep is treatable with natural remedies that may include:

  • Exercise – Sleep medicine reports that, “…exercise intensity is responsible for the effects on stage 2 sleep (REM – rapid eye movement) and SWS (slow wave sleep).
  • Behavioral therapy – The National Sleep Foundation recommends CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) which are weekly visits to a clinician who assigns sleep assessments to help readjust sleep patterns.
  • Electric stimulation – “…amplifies brain waves during sleep, a technology that has been used successfully in young adults to increase their overnight memory.” (UC Berkeley)

A Future Diagnosis

There may come a time in the near future where your sleep activity could be monitored by your doctor to determine possible cognitive risk. This may be done in an overnight clinical setting or through an in-home machine you wear as you sleep.

Data from these sleep studies will then be plugged into a statistical model to determine how they may be affecting your future health. If deep sleep is achieved for at least 6-8 hours per night you may be in a good position. However, if deep sleep does not stay consistent then you may have to undergo any of the above remedies (or others) to attempt to put you back into a healthy sleep pattern.

Sometimes it is the simplest approach that unlocks the most difficult problem. Some believe that not only is Alzheimer’s heading toward epidemic proportions but that it is surpassing cancer research. This is because cancer is becoming more treatable with higher and higher survival rates while Alzheimer’s continues to have minimal treatable success.

Overall, you may want to put more effort into your sleep cycle as your future brain may depend on it.