A new study, which will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 64th Annual Meeting in New Orleans, April 21st to April 28th, reveals that the amount of shut-eye people sleep may later affect their memory’s function and the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Study author, Yo-El Ju, M.D., from the University School of Medicine, St. Louis, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, explained:

“Disrupted sleep appears to be associated with the build-up of amyloid plaques, a hallmark marker of Alzheimer’s disease, in the brains of people without memory problems. Further research is needed to determine why this is happening and whether sleep changes may predict cognitive decline.”

To determine their findings, the authors analyzed the sleep patterns of 100 patients, aged between 45 and 80, who did not show any signs of dementia. 50% of these patients had a history of Alzheimer’s disease in their families, the other 50% did not have any history of Alzheimer’s disease in their families.

The researchers placed a monitor on the patients in order to record their sleep for 2 weeks. They were also asked to record their sleeping habits and fill out surveys.

The study determined that 25% of the patients showed signs of amyloid plaques, which predict Alzheimer’s in the future, and can be seen many years before they are diagnosed with the progressive disease. The mean amount of time the participants slept during the study was 8 hours. However, the average was reduced – to 6.5 hours – because of disruptions in their sleep throughout the night.

The people who did not wake up frequently during the night were 5 times less likely to possess the amyloid plaque build-up than the people who did not sleep well. The people who did not sleep well were also found to have a greater chance of having the “markers” of early stage Alzheimer’s. This means, those who spent 85% of their time in bed, sleeping soundly, have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s than those who spent 85% of the time in bed tossing and turning.

Ju concludes:

“The association between disrupted sleep and amyloid plaques is intriguing, but the information from this study can’t determine a cause-effect relationship or the direction of this relationship. We need longer-term studies, following individuals’ sleep over years, to determine whether disrupted sleep leads to amyloid plaques, or whether brain changes in early Alzheimer’s disease lead to changes in sleep.

Our study lays the groundwork for investigating whether manipulating sleep is a possible strategy in the prevention or slowing of Alzheimer’s disease”

This study was funded by the Ellison Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Written By Christine Kearney