Doctors could detect the years of Alzheimer's disease earlier by analyzing your sleepy brain for revealing changes, according to a study
- Lack of sleep has long been associated with higher risks of many diseases, including Alzheimer's disease
- As people get older, the quality and amount of sleep they get tends to decrease
- A new UC Berkeley study reveals that changes to two types of sleep brain waves are related to the formation of tangled Alzheimer's patches and knots.
- The researchers believe that sleep analysis could allow doctors to identify people at risk of getting Alzheimer's disease and start preventive care for years before the disease starts.
Years of poor sleep can cause changes in brain waves during your rest – and new research suggests that these changes in neural activity during your rest could help doctors diagnose Alzheimer's disease.
Although the exact purpose of sleep remains a mystery to scientists, most suspects believe that it serves as a nocturnal cleansing of the brain (among other functions).
And even one night has been linked to higher levels of plaques in the brain related to Alzheimer's disease, suggesting that without sleep, these toxic wastes are not swept away.
Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) have discovered that as we get older, our "sleep waves" are getting out of sync, which could lead to two markers of Alzheimer's disease the brain.
As we get older, two forms of brain waves essential to sleep are no longer synchronized and we have fewer and fewer. These changes can predict the development of entangled patches and knots (file)
The lead author of the study, Dr. Matthew Walker, neuroscientist at UC Berkeley and "Sleep Diplomat," often warns that the United States is currently experiencing a "sleep deprivation epidemic," which harms our overall health.
This is not recognized by the National Institutes of Health or by the World Health Organization, but it is certainly a common problem.
More than a third of Americans sleep less than the recommended seven hours a night.
And this is linked to higher risks of many diseases and even premature death – including a greater likelihood of being among those out of 10 who will develop Alzheimer's disease.
Sleep and Alzheimer's disease are poorly understood even by the leading experts.
But our best work theories suggest that tau entanglements and beta-amyloid plaques in the brain are the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease.
When UC Berkeley researchers examined brain scans in adults and compared them to the results of an investigation into sleep patterns and sleep disturbances, they found two links between the two. The evolution of the latter and the development of these two cerebral signaling structures.
During a night of sleep, several types of activities occur in the brain.
In a young and healthy adult enjoying complete and uninterrupted rest, two of these movements – flushes of brain activity called sleep spindles and larger, slower activity waves – are synchronized.
But as we get older, the quality of sleep inevitably deteriorates and both types of activities begin to deteriorate and become discordant.
By analyzing the sleep patterns of their cohort of study subjects, the researchers found that the fewer slow brain waves felt during sleep, the more tau accumulated in the brain.
At the same time, if they had a decrease in the number of sleep trees, more beta-amyloid would be collected, according to the study published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
This pair of phenomena is like a double hit for Alzheimer's risks.
In addition, if people slept less and less as they reached the age of 50 to 70, they were more likely to have higher levels of plaque and tangles later.
This is a scary predictor for the 35% of Americans who do not sleep well – but the researchers think there is potential.
If a person is having trouble sleeping at night or getting the ideal seven hours, watching his brain to detect these particular wave movements of sleep can be a harbinger of Alzheimer's disease.
In this case, preventive care could be put in place immediately to improve sleep and perhaps minimize the risk of Alzheimer's.