Sleep quality could impact your Alzheimer’s risk

We all know that quality sleep can help anything from boosting your mood to rebuilding your immune system, but new research suggests that prolonged periods of poor sleep can actually increase the levels of Alzheimer’s-related proteins, such as beta-amyloid and tau. The researchers identified that quality was more important than quantity, as poor quality of sleep, notably the disruption of deep, ‘slow-wave sleep’, are particularly important.

The scientists from Washington University in St Louis, USA, recruited seventeen healthy adults, aged between 35 and 65 years, who took part in two sleep experiments one month apart. For both, the participants first completed a home sleep diary, over a period of between five to 14 days, as well as sensors to monitor their movements during sleep.

Following their period of sleeping at home, each of the participants spent a night sleeping in the laboratory with headphones on. Half the group had silent headphones, while the other half had a series of beeps that increased in loudness as they approached slow-wave sleep, without waking them up. In the morning, samples of cerebrospinal fluid were taken to measure their protein levels.

In those who responded to the beeps, beta-amyloid was increased by up to 10 per cent; however tau levels did not change as they take longer to develop – something the longer period of home sleep could shed light on. Over the five to 14 day period, it was seen that while sleep duration or time spent in bed did not affect beta-amyloid levels, it did have an effect upon tau – with worse quality sleep shown to increase its levels.

Commenting on the findings, Yo-El Ju, neurologist and co-author, said: “[The study] shows specifically that slow wave sleep, or deep sleep, is important for lowering the levels of amyloid overnight… We think that not getting good sleep chronically over the years would increase the risk of the amyloid and tau clumping up and causing Alzheimer’s disease.”

While this study is small in size, there is absolutely no harm in trying to maximise your sleep every night. Try some of the tips below to get the most ‘slow-wave sleep’ possible:

  • Turn off blue screen devices – Ideally you should switch off all electronic devices and the television an hour before going to bed. These devices emit bluish lights that can suppress natural melatonin production and disrupt the sleep cycle.
  • Diet and supplements – tart cherries are a great source of melatonin (nature’s sleep-regulating hormone), the herb valerian has demonstrated its ability to improve sleep quality, as well as St. John’s wort which boosts serotonin levels to induce relaxation and drowsiness.
  • Relax before bed – Soaking in the bath, listening to calming music or reading a book can do wonders to help relax and unwind your body and mind. A relaxed mind set will also help your body to prepare for restful sleep.
Wishing you the best of health,

Dominic Rees
Editorial Health Researcher