Why Sleeping May Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

The Daily Beast had an article on a new study that shows how loss of quality sleep may contribute to the cause of Alzheimer’s disease.  According to researchers at the University of California Berkeley, disturbed sleep may contribute to the development of dementia. The study, performed at the university’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory, relied on the brain scans of people with both diagnoses. Loss of sleep, they determined, caused a buildup of a “garbage” protein in the brain—one that directly impacts cognition.

The biology, in this case, comes down to a “stringy” toxic protein that dangles off another one in the brain. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why it’s there, but they do know that it’s dangerous. Luckily, our bodies are aware of this too, and use an enzyme to metabolize the protein until it evaporates.

When we fall asleep, it goes into “overdrive.” Those who routinely get a good night of sleep easily get rid of the protein. Those who don’t, leave behind a mess the body doesn’t recognize. Sticky in nature, the protein attracts others that were also left behind, forming a dangerous sheet of  “gooey garbagey proteins.”  At first, the “gooey garbage” isn’t an issue.  But over time the buildup—which can be seen in Alzheimer’s patients up to 20 years before a diagnosis—wreaks havoc.

The concept builds on a study from the same center in October of last year, which examined whether obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) had the potential to cause Alzheimer’s. Published in Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews, the study relied on sleep brain imaging to examine the overlap in the structure of patients’ brains with the two diagnoses. While a direct link could not be proven, the images showed a “cognitive decline” from OSA, and suggested that perhaps “sleep disturbances” alone may be the issue.