Just one night of interrupted sleep could increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study.
That is the conclusion from an international study involving three universities which has explored the link between Alzheimer’s and sleep.
The study, published in the journal Brai, suggests a night of poor quality sleep results in an increase of a protein linked to Alzheimer’s in the brain in healthy middle-aged adults.
Also, a whole week of disrupted sleep results in a rise in another protein in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s as well as other neurological conditions, researchers also concluded.
People with type 2 diabetes are more at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, while a complicated relationship exists between diabetes and sleep, with both the condition and the state capable of affecting the other.
The research was carried out by two American universities, Washington University School of Medicine and Stanford University, alongside the Netherlands-based Radboud University Medical Centre.
Professor David M. Holtzma, the study’s lead researcher, said: “We showed that poor sleep is associated with higher levels of two Alzheimer’s-associated proteins. We think that perhaps chronic poor sleep during middle age may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s later in life.”
Seventeen people aged 35-65 without any health complaints all wore an activity tracker for a fortnight to measure their sleep. They each spent a night in a ‘sleep room’ – which was dark and soundproof – following a minimum of five nights of tracking, with half of them being disturbed during the night. This process was repeated a month later but this time the other half had disrupted sleep.
All of the participants had their brain waves monitored and following the experiment they had the levels of amyloid beta protein and tangles of tau protein in their brains measured – two proteins found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s which cause brain tissue to waste away.
The researchers found a 10 per cent increase in amyloid beta levels after a single night of interrupted sleep although no rise in tau levels. But those with who slept badly at home did have a rise in tau levels.
Co-first author Yo-El Ju said: “We were not surprised to find that tau levels didn’t budge after just one night of disrupted sleep while amyloid levels did, because amyloid levels normally change more quickly than tau levels. But we could see, when the participants had several bad nights in a row at home that their tau levels had risen.”
She concluded: “At this point, we can’t say whether improving sleep will reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. All we can really say is that bad sleep increases levels of some proteins that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. But a good night’s sleep is something you want to be striving for anyway.”

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