Poor Sleep Tied to Changes in the Brain Similar to Alzheimer’s

According to new research, older adults who don’t sleep well have more of the brain plaques that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

The scientists who conducted the study at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore said past studies have found sleep quality is related to thinking and memory skills.  The question has always been whether poor sleep is actually leading to to cognitive decline in old age.

Researchers asked 70 adults, ages 53 to 91 years, how many hours they slept each night and how often they woke up during the night or had otherwise disrupted sleep.

Then they scanned each person’s brain to look for clusters of beta-amyloid, the plaque that can lead to dementia. The clumps of protein pieces are present in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease in much higher quantities than among healthy people.

The scientists found that average levels of beta-amyloid were higher in the subjects that slept less.  In fact, the amounts of the protein rose with every hour less that participants reported sleeping every night and with each additional point they scored on a question about poor sleep quality.

Researchers say they’re not sure if poor sleep leads to changes in the brain that resemble Alzheimer’s, or if it’s the other way around.