Deep sleep may be essential for preventing the gradual deterioration of brain function that eventually may result in Alzheimer’s disease, the most prevalent type of dementia.
Researchers from the Universities of California (UC) Berkeley, Stanford University, and UC Irvine in the US discovered that people with brain changes linked to Alzheimer’s disease performed better on memory function tests as they got more deep sleep, according to their study involving 62 older, cognitively healthy adults.
This was independent of education and physical activity, two elements known to support cognitive resilience in older age together with social interaction. On the same tests, those with similar Alzheimer’s-related alterations who did not get as much deep sleep performed less well. When compared to those who had minimal deposits, sleep had little impact.
The findings, which were published in May of this year, suggest that getting plenty of quality sleep may be able to assist the memory loss that occurs as dementia sets in. Matthew Walker, a neuroscientist at the University of California (UC) Berkeley and the study’s principal author, likened deep sleep to a life raft that keeps memory afloat rather than letting Alzheimer’s disease pathology take it under.
“This is particularly thrilling because we can take action. Even in older folks, there are strategies to improve sleep, says Walker.
The latest study confirms earlier findings that persons with disturbed sleep have an amyloid-beta protein buildup in their brains. However, it might be difficult to separate cause and effect because insomnia is both a risk factor and a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. Clumpy amyloid-beta proteins may merely be a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease rather than the cause.
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But even when levels of amyloid-beta proteins are relatively high, some people seem to be able to fend off the decline that occurs with Alzheimer’s disease. Walker and colleagues recorded the individuals’ brain waves as they slept, then asked them to complete a memory test the following day to determine why.
Getting a good night’s sleep appeared to make a significant difference in cognitive function among those whose brain scans revealed comparable high levels of beta-amyloid deposits. Only non-rapid eye movement slow wave sleep was particularly examined by the researchers; no other sleep wave frequencies or sleep stages were examined.
There is a need for longer-term studies in older persons to see whether increasing deep sleep over time will assist maintain cognitive function even as amyloid-beta levels rise.
For the time being, this study adds to a large body of data that suggests sleep may be a modifiable risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Sleep may be able to prevent molecular alterations by providing the brain time to eliminate waste products that accumulate throughout the day. It also emphasises how crucial restful sleep is.
According to lead author and UC Berkeley neuroscientist Zsófia Zavecz, “with a certain level of brain pathology, you’re not destined for cognitive symptoms or memory issues.” Zavecz made this statement about the study’s results back in May.
Zavecz notes that while individuals may exhibit molecular changes that point to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, their findings imply that lifestyle choices may be able to mitigate those consequences. “One of those factors is sleep and, specifically, deep sleep,” she stated. Even though the study was tiny, it provides some insight into why achieving restful sleep naturally rather than through the use of sleeping drugs may be preferable.
In their cerebrospinal fluid, which cleans the brain at night, users of sleeping drugs appear to have lower levels of amyloid proteins, according to recent studies. But these drugs have negative effects, and they may also induce shallow sleep cycles rather than deep sleep cycles. Instead, Zavecz advises avoiding coffee in the afternoon, getting some exercise, limiting screen time, and taking a hot shower before bed to prepare yourself for a restful night’s sleep.
While you sleep, rest assured that researchers are hard at work unravelling the complex issues of Alzheimer’s disease, which affects millions of people worldwide. The research was released in BMC Medicine.