Ruth Benca, MD, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, and colleagues examined 98 patients between the ages of 50 and 73 who were taking part in a study involving Alzheimer’s prevention and had filled out questionnaires about their sleep. The participants had no existing mental health problems.
Patients who reported trouble sleeping were more likely to have build-up of beta-amyloid plaque in their brain, Benca reported at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. Deposits of the protein are found in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers also found that elevated amyloid levels were associated with less restful sleep and more sleep problems. But there was no link between amyloid and snoring, awaking with shortness of breath, trouble falling asleep or amount of sleep.
However, the team cautions that it is unclear whether people sleep poorly because they are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or whether the sleep problems contribute to development of the disease.
“We still need to determine whether sleep disturbance promotes amyloid deposition in the brain, or if a neurodegenerative process produces disordered sleep,” Benca said in a statement.
Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks, according to the National Institute on Aging. In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first…
The study found that brain scans of a group of older people with no mental health problems who reported trouble sleeping were more likely to have a build-up of amyloid plaques in the brain – a protein that is found in high concentrations in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
The scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison acknowledge that further research is needed to determine whether people sleep badly and feel less rested because they are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or whether a lack of sleep contributes to development of the disease. However, they say that the findings raise the possibility that treating sleep problems might be a tactic to prevent dementia progressing later in life.