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Study: Sleep Problems Lead to Early Alzheimer's

 Tuesday, 19 Mar 2013 10:10 AM

By Charlotte Libov

A new study shows that sleep problems can be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease. One of the nation’s top neurologists tells Newsmax Health that the findings confirm what many doctors have long believed: A good night’s sleep is vital to brain health.

“We’ve known about the connection between sleep and Alzheimer’s for years, but this research sheds more light on it and links it to the buildup of beta-amyloid in the brain,” said Gary Small, M.D., author of the best-selling book The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program.

Sleep disturbances are common in people with Alzheimer’s disease, but it wasn’t previously known prior to this study if they occur before cognitive symptoms begin. Washington University School of Medicine researchers were seeking to learn if poor-quality sleep is an early indicator of Alzheimer’s.

For the new study, they recruited 142 adults age 45 and older with no outward signs of cognitive problems. Researchers monitored their sleep for two weeks and also tested their cerebral spinal fluid to see if a molecule that indicates a buildup of beta-amyloid – regarded as the earliest identifiable stage of Alzheimer's– was occurring in their brains. 

They found that 32 people who had evidence of the molecule in their cerebral spinal fluid also had the poorest quality sleep of those in the study. 

In the study’s conclusions, published in JAMA Neurology, the researchers said they hoped their findings would stimulate more research into the area of sleep and amyloid disposition, and provide an even stronger motivation to identify and treat individuals with common sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea. Apnea causes people to briefly stop breathing and to sleep fitfully.

“Sleep apnea robs the brain of oxygen, which in time can contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Small, author of The Mind Health Report newsletter. “Sleep apnea also contributes to the creation of an inflammatory state within the body, which is toxic to brain cells.” 

The study did not show that it is a certainty that people with beta-amyloid deposits will go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

“I think the take-home message of this study is that if someone is having sleep problems they should go to the doctor because it could be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease, or it can indicate another problem like sleep apnea, which is correctable,” Dr. Small said.