Studies Show Interrupted Sleep is a Contributing Factor to Alzheimer’s

We all need sleep to recover from the stresses of the day. Sleep restores neural pathways and refreshes our mind. Periods of abstinence from rest may lead to hallucinations, delusions, and a lowered feeling of well-being. When we are sleep deprived, our brain struggles to operate at normal levels of cognitive function. You may find yourself unable to complete simple calculations, or forget where you have placed items.

This lack of cognitive capacity is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, a neural disorder that interrupts healthy brain function and degenerates its neural ability over a short period, usually a few years. New research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London, suggests that a lack of sleep may be a contributing factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Apnea Problem

Researchers at Wheaton College, Illinois, have discovered a relationship between breathing disorders such as sleep apnea that affects the oxygen flow to the brain while asleep. These sleep disorders have been proven to increase the risk of dementia developing in patients. It is easy enough to solve these sleep issues and reduce the risk of dementia by using a mouthpiece or a CPAP machine while the patient is sleeping to keep their airways unobstructed.

Sleep apnea occurs in 1 in 5 women and 1 in 3 men. This statistic, as measured by the Alzheimer’s Association, is a shocking view of the number of people in the population that are living with a sleep disorder and exposing themselves to the possibility of developing degenerative brain disease.

Apnea occurs if the upper airway is partially or entirely closed during sleep. This results in the patient not breathing for a short period, followed by a sudden burst of breathing, usually confused with a loud snore. Apnea can be so severe that it wakes the patient during the night. Some people living with sleep apnea can wake up to sixty times during a single night.

The Studies

Apnea usually starts at middle age and is a problem for overweight or obese people. In a study of 516 adults, aged 71 to 78 years old, with normal cognitive function; studies showed that those with sleep disorders had an increase in beta-amyloid deposits. This health marker is one of the defining biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease, and a lack of sleep elevated the presence of this marker in people with sleep disorders, even those that did not have the APOE-e4 gene, which is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

A second study of the group found that sleep apnea increased the amount of amyloid buildup in the elderly that already had the mild cognitive impairment. A third study proved a relationship between sleep apnea and MCI in both healthy patients and those living with MCI.

There has been a correlation between dementia and sleep apnea in previous studies. However; these new studies were the first of their kind to discover a link between sleep disruption and biomarkers linked to Alzheimer’s disease. The reason for this acceleration in dementia and degenerative brain disease is partially due to the brain’s ability to clear deposits of amyloid plaque during the sleep cycle. Apnea is said to reduce the efficiency of this process and expose the patient to the risk of developing MCI.

This process occurs during the deepest phase of sleep and those that experience apnea during their sleep will not be able to reach the deepest REM parts of sleep where these regenerative processes take place.

The Final Word

Getting a good night’s sleep will ensure that you function during the day and prevent the onset of degenerative brain disease. Make sure that you are doing everything you can to maximize your sleep time. Buy a comfortable bed using mattress coupons to save you some money and purchase a CPAP machine if you are living with sleep apnea. Arrange a checkup with your physician to analyze the state of your health markers and ensure that you are getting the restorative value from your sleep.

1 Comment

  1. Stupid question, but all the diagrams I have seen about this show the tongue constricting the throat. Wouldn’t simply sleeping on your side prevent this, or at least reduce it considerably?

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