Numerous studies have tied sleep to Alzheimer's disease, but the link hasn't yet been well-defined.
Now a new study led by Oregon Health and Science University hopes to clearly determine the relationship between a lack of shuteye and the memory-robbing disease. University researcher Jeffrey Iliff recently spoke with NPR about the upcoming study and the importance of adequate sleep.
"Changes in sleep habits may actually be setting the stage [for dementia]," Iliff told NPR.
Researchers have known for decades that there was a link between Alzheimer's and sleep but they might have had it all wrong. It's common for Alzheimer's patients to have sleep disorders, which researchers thought was a result of the disease and the way it disturbs the brain's ability to regulate rest.
Iliff and his team believe that it might be the other way around. It's during deep sleep that our brain is able to rid itself of harmful toxins, including amyloid commonly associated with Alzheimer's disease. Researchers now believe that if we don't get adequate sleep, the brain might not be able to carry out this function, causing amyloid to accumulate. This, in turn, potentially increases the risk for Alzheimer's disease.
The new study will hopefully determine the exact link. They plan to use highly sensitive MRIs that can sense when the brain's glymphatic system is activated to clear away toxins.
Other research in this area has shown similar findings. One 2014 study of mice found that lack of sleep can lead to memory problems and brain tangles in just eight weeks. And a study from 2015 found that lack of sleep might speed up biological aging.
Iliff and his fellow researchers hope their study will provide answers that could confirm their theory and also help pinpoint people who might be at risk.
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