Can a Lack of Zzzz’s Contribute to Alzheimer’s Disease?

Sleep and alzhiemer's disease 09/15/2014

If you are one of the estimated 60 million Americans who suffer from insomnia, early research to investigate a potential link between a lack of sleep and Alzheimer’s disease might be troubling. While researchers have long known that insomnia can be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease, what isn’t clear is the role chronic insomnia may play in the development of the disease.

There are a variety of research projects that have explored the issue and are continuing to do so. The dementia care experts from our Heartland Village memory care program have identified two that are especially interesting. One is from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the other is from Washington University School of Medicine.

 Johns Hopkins Sleep and Alzheimer’s Research

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at sleep patterns in adults over the age of 70. They discovered that seniors who slept fewer hours and had poor sleep quality also had higher amounts of a brain plaque called, Beta amyloid. It is believed to be an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

 While the team at Johns Hopkins isn’t ready to confirm a link between a lack of sleep and Alzheimer’s, they will admit that sleep might play a key role in prevention. It is an area they plan to investigate in more detail.

Washington University Sleep Loss and Alzheimer’s Findings

At Washington University’s Charles F. and Joanne Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, 145 volunteers between the ages of 45 and 75 were recruited for a study on sleep loss and Alzheimer’s. All of the volunteers were considered to have normal cognitive function when they enrolled. 32 of the participants were found to have preclinical Alzheimer’s disease. Simply put, that means they probably had amyloid plaques in their brains but were not cognitively impaired at the start of the trial.

Participants in the trial tracked their sleep and nap habits in a journal for two weeks. They also wore sensors that allowed scientists to track their movement and probable quality of sleep. What they found was participants who were the worst sleepers were more than five times more likely to have preclinical Alzheimer’s disease than good sleepers.

How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep

So what can you do to try to get seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night?

Here are a few tips that might help:

  • Get 30 minutes of exercise during the day
  • Detach from mobile devices several hours before bedtime
  • Wake up and go to sleep at the same time each day
  • Eliminate caffeine from your diet especially later in the day
  • Do a few stretching exercises before bed
  • Learn how to meditate, do yoga or even practice chair yoga
  • Avoid indulging in too much alcohol
  • Keep the bedroom temperature between 60 and 70 degrees

Finally, if despite your best efforts you just can’t get a good night’s sleep, make an appointment to talk with your primary care physician. They can help evaluate what the problem might be.