Lack of sleep may be linked to Alzheimer's

Not getting enough sleep in just one night may be correlated with developing Alzheimer's disease later on in life, suggests an April 13 press release from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  

Losing just one night of sleep can led to an immediate increase in beta-amyloid, a protein in the brain correlated with Alzheimer's disease.  

“This research provides new insight about the potentially harmful effects of lack of sleep on the brain and has implications for better characterizing the pathology of Alzheimer's disease,” said George Koob, PhD, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), in a prepared statement. The NIAAA, a part of the NIH, funded the study led by Ehsan Shokri-Kojori, PhD, and Nora Volkow, MD, of the NIAAA Laboratory of Neuroimaging at NIH. 

Researchers used PET technology to scan the brains of 20 healthy subjects between the ages of 22 to 72 after a night of good sleep and after sleep deprivation (being awake for at least 31 hours), according to the press release. They found that after losing a night of sleep, beta-amyloid increases about five percent in the thalamus and hippocampus regions of the brain, which are vulnerable to damage in the early stages of Alzheimer's.

"It is also important to note that the link between sleep disorders and Alzheimer's risk is considered by many scientists to be 'bidirectional,’ since elevated beta-amyloid may also lead to sleep disturbances," according to the press release.  

Study participants with larger increases in beta-amyloid also reported worse mood after sleep deprivation, according to the press release. 

“Even though our sample was small, this study demonstrated the negative effect of sleep deprivation on beta-amyloid burden in the human brain. Future studies are needed to assess the generalizability to a larger and more diverse population,” Shokri-Kojori said in a prepared statement.