The Relationship Between Sleep and Alzheimers

Oregon Health & Science University in Portland has begun a research project to better understand the how relationship between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease. The research will focus on a “key process” in the brains of sleeping humans which will be the first of its kind and will hopefully illuminate the ways in which sleep and Alzheimer’s are intertwined.

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s sleep problems are very common for patients. Sometimes even years before patients develop more noticeable cognitive problems or memory loss they will suffer from disrupted sleep.

In the last five years studies have found that people, and mice, that were suffering from poor sleep patterns had a buildup of beta amyloid plaque in their brains. Beta amyloid plaque, a sticky mixture of proteins, collects in synapses. It is also a key characteristic in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers think that sleep might sweet toxins in the brain which would prevent beta amyloid from collecting in synapses. However, it is still not clear if the disrupted sleep is caused by the beta amyloid buildup or the beta amyloid buildup causes the disrupted sleep, “It may be a vicious cycle,” Miroslaw Machiewicz from the National Institute on Aging told the AP.

In order to help further solve this mystery, the team at the Oregon Health & Science University plans to observe people’s brains in a hyper-sensitive MRI machine while they sleep. They hope to see when the sweeping in the brain occurs in the sleep cycle. This new study could further illuminate, and possibly highlight, the relationship between sleep and Alzheimer’s which could help find new treatments and preventative measures in the future. Despite this excitement, scientists do acknowledge that participants may have a hard time sleeping in a noisy and small MRI machine. Good luck sleeping!

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