You may already know that not getting enough good sleep can cause daytime sleepiness, an inability to make good decisions, car and other accidents, unhealthy food choices, weight gain, depression, high blood pressure, diabetes and a host of other health problems. Three new studies now indicate that poor sleep could be responsible for an increased risk of Alzheimer's Disease as well.
One study conducted by a team from Boston University School of Medicine was published in the journal Neurology. They determined that even a small loss of the dreaming phase of sleep, called REM or rapid eye movement sleep, can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.
What was not clear from this study is if the disordered sleep is a cause or an early effect of the dementia process. One of the leaders of the study, Matthew Pace, commented that “Sleep disturbances are common in dementia but little is known about the various stages of sleep and whether they play a role in dementia risk.
In the second study, published in the journal Brain, a team from Washington University in St. Louis reported that sleep disruption raised levels of amyloid, the protein that clogs the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. They believe that interrupted sleep may allow too much of the compounds, amyloid, and tau, to build up and that sleep might help the body clear them away.
The third study, published in the journal Neurology, researchers at New York University School of Medicine and Rutgers School of Public Health found that sleep apnea can lead to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) nearly 10 years earlier than in those who don’t suffer from breathing problems during sleep. And those with sleep apnea were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s an average of five years earlier than those without sleep issues.
Currently, more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. That number is expected to grow to 28 million by 2050 as our population ages. There is no cure. There are a handful of drugs on the market—Aricept, Namenda, and Exelon— that were approved more than a decade ago. They can treat symptoms for a while, but they do not affect the disease itself.
There are, however, some new drugs in the works that aim to clear amyloid proteins out of the brains of Alzheimer’s patients in hopes of slowing the disease.
The three drugs highlighted at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference are solanezumab, aducanumab, and gantenerumab. All are currently in Phase III testing with varied results.
Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease. There is no cure. Current medicines, when started early, only help with symptoms for a while and have no real effect on the disease itself. Therefore, we owe it to ourselves, our families, and those we serve to do everything we can to protect our brains from Alzheimer’s for as long as possible and to educate others about how to do so.