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Alzheimer's disease may be linked to poor sleep, a new study has found.
While scientists and health experts often talk about the importance of getting enough shut-eye, the study focused on the quality rather than quantity of sleep.
Researchers at the University of Washington, found that long periods of bad sleep bumped up levels of proteins involved in the development of Alzheimer's, reports the Guardian.
The proteins, known as beta-amyloid and tau, have long been linked to the development of the disease but it was not clear what aspect of sleep caused their rise in the human body.
Yo-El Ju, a neurologist at the University of Washington in St. Louis told the Guardian: "[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."
The study involved a group of healthy participants, aged between 35 to 65, who did two sleep experiments a month apart.
In both tests, examinees were tasked with completing a sleep diary over periods between five days and two weeks, and wore sensors to track their movements during sleeping hours.
This ended with a night spent in the lab, where their brain-waves were tracked and a lumbar puncture taken the following morning.
The participants wore headphones in the lab. One group were played noises, the other a series of beeps of increasing loudness when they had entered slow-wave sleep.
The results, said Ju, showed that disrupting slow-wave sleep had a distinct impact, with up to a 10% increase in beta amyloid when beeps were played.
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The study's writers argue that its findings hint that repetitive disturbances in slow-wave sleep, otherwise known as poor-quality sleep, may lead to the growth of beta-amyloid and tau, which may in turn increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Ju noted that one bad night's sleep should not be a cause for concern, rather that people should be looking to improve their overall sleep on a daily basis.
Doug Brown, director of research at Alzheimer's Society, told the Guardian: "While this contributes to a growing body of evidence which highlights the importance of good sleep, the study didn't test whether people went on to develop Alzheimer's, so we can't yet say whether better sleep could reduce risk of the disease."
850,000 people in the UK suffer from dementia, and it costs £26.3bn a year, making it a very serious health condition not just on a personal and family level, but also nationally.
Source: The Guardian
Words: Ronan O'Shea
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