New blood markers that reflect risk for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are uncovering important modifiable risk factors to be aware of to dramatically reduce the likelihood of ever suffering from this cruel disease. The latest study shows that just one night of sleep disruption is associated with an increase in these blood markers.
The primary brain lesions of AD are the result of deposits of a substance known as beta-amyloid. Although the immune cells in the brain normally remove beta-amyloid and plaque, research is beginning to characterize a chronic and excessive inflammatory reaction to amyloid proteins in the brain in susceptible individuals that can promote AD. Blood measurements of a protein called tau that is formed from toxic beta-amyloid as well as a protein that acts as the internal skeleton of brain cells known neurofilament light chain (NfL) protein can predict neurodegeneration years before clinical symptoms appear in AD. When brain cells are damaged, tau and NfL are released into cerebrospinal fluid and then the blood.
Poor sleep quality is associated with a significant risk for Alzheimer’s disease. For example, researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that the inability to sleep through the night was associated with an increased risk the preclinical form of Alzheimer’s disease. Subjects who were the least efficient sleepers in the study were five times more likely to have preclinical form of Alzheimer's. While researchers are exploring the formation of the beta-amyloid as being the cause of the poor sleep quality, a more likely explanation is that the poor sleep quality is actually the cause of the beta-amyloid formation.
During the deeper levels of sleep the repair mechanisms and antioxidant system of brain cells are heightened. Sleeping pills seem to exacerbate this situation. Use of sedative hypnotic drugs (sleeping pills) was associated with a whopping 230% increase risk of AD over an eight-year period in a study in France while in a study in the U.K., the risk was even greater over a 22-year follow up study– a dramatic 294% increase. The link between sleeping pill usage and the dramatic increased risk for AD may be the result of the fact that these drugs typically negatively impact the ability to achieve deeper levels of sleep.
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