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Why Sleeplessness May Up Your Risk for Alzheimer's

By Leah Groth ; Updated February 23, 2018

Sleep. Everyone needs it, but a third of Americans don’t get enough of it. This is unfortunate because lack of sleep has been previously linked to an increased risk of several health issues, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Now all the tosser-and-turners out there have another major health problem to worry about: Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found a link between sleep issues and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Previous evidence has shown that sleep may influence the development or progression of Alzheimer’s disease in various ways,” explained Barbara Bendlin, Ph.D., co-author of the study published in Neurology. “Disrupted sleep or lack of sleep may lead to amyloid plaque buildup [a biological marker of the disease] because the brain’s clearance system kicks into action during sleep. Our study looked not only for amyloid, but for other biological markers in the spinal fluid as well.”

So, in other words, not getting enough sleep is messing with your brain’s ability to perform critical functions it needs to perform specifically while you are sleeping.

Researchers looked at 101 people with an average age of 63, all of whom were considered at risk of developing Alzheimer’s, either because they had the apolipoprotein E gene or one of their parents suffered from it. They were asked to take a survey about their sleep habits and also provide samples of their spinal fluid (this is where amyloid — and another biological marker, tau protein — buildup can be found.) “Analyzing this fluid allowed us to look at markers related to Alzheimer’s disease, such as plaques and tangles, as well as markers of inflammation and nerve cell damage,” Bendlin explained.

What they discovered is that people who had sleep issues were also more likely to have these other markers.

“Our findings align with the idea that worse sleep may contribute to the accumulation of Alzheimer’s-related proteins in the brain,” Bendlin continued. The good news is that because “these relationships appear early,” there may be a “window of opportunity for intervention.”

This could have a significant impact on the health care system, as delaying the onset of the disease by just five years “could reduce the number of cases we see in the next 30 years by 5.7 million and save $367 billion in health care spending.” More research is required, as Bendlin believes it’s “still unclear if sleep may affect the development of the disease or if the disease affects the quality of sleep.”

If you aren’t getting the seven hours of nightly sleep recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, you might want to check out these 10 proven tips for a good night’s sleep.

What Do YOU Think?

Does this new research concern you? Do you get at least seven hours of sleep per night? What are some methods you use to ensure quality sleep?

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