Does Alzheimer’s disease cause poor sleep, or is it the other way around? Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University are conducting a study to find out. The results might show that poor sleep leads to Alzheimer’s. If so, this study may help determine who is at highest risk of developing the disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is marked by the build-up of plaque and tangles in the brain. This causes neurological damage. Early symptoms include short-term memory loss. Later, language
problems, disorientation, motivation loss, moodiness, difficulty caring for oneself and behavioral problems arise.
Sleep Problems May be the Cause, not the Result of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s patients’ often have sleeping problems. Therefore, sleeping problems have been thought to be a result of the disease’s impact on the brain. It was felt that the brain disorder damaged the patient’s ability to regulate rest. But, researcher Jeffrey Iliff and his colleagues are trying to discover if poor sleep actually leads to Alzheimer’s disease.
During the deep sleep phase cerebrospinal fluid recirculates within the brain along the pathways taken by existing blood vessels in the brain. The recirculation process, allows the glymphatic system to remove toxins and wastes from the brain. Amyloid, associated with Alzheimer’s disease, is one of the toxins removed.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) can detect when the brain’s glymphatic system is activated. This is possible because when the glymphatic system is activated certain salt molecules emit a particular signal that can be picked up by MRI. In that way MRI can tell the researchers when the system is activated and how strongly it is functioning.
Editor’s Note: Proper sleep is known to have many positive health effects. If this research pans out, sleep quality may get more attention as a way of preventing disease. See our page about Sleep and Eye Health including tips for getting proper rest at night.
Source: Ion Hamilton Interview with researchers Jeffrey Iliff and Bill Roone of Oregon Health & Science University, National Public Radio, January, 2016.