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The Link Between Sleep and Alzheimer’s Disease

Senior woman worries about getting enough sleep

One in three Americans do not get enough sleep. The lack of sleep among all ages has become so severe that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is calling it a public health problem. Sleep is vital to good health, so not getting enough has been linked to several diseases including diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease and memory disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

Could poor sleep earlier in life actually contribute to dementia and Alzheimer’s? Some studies are finding that those with less sleep are at higher risk because of a protein called beta-amyloid. This protein could eventually become a biomarker and serve as a method for early detection.

Aging and Sleep: Science Behind the Study

Studies show that people who get less REM sleep are at a higher risk for memory problems. REM is the fifth stage of sleep – when the eyes move, the body heats up, breathing and pulse quicken, and the mind dreams. When this sleep is disturbed, it leads to a higher level of beta-amyloid. This protein folds and forms the sticky plaques that kill brain cells and bog down information processing. A benefit of sleep is that it clears the protein from the brain, while poor sleep allows it to build up.

This hallmark of Alzheimer’s is the first known preclinical stage of the disease and happens even before the very first symptoms of memory loss appear. Beta-amyloid could eventually be a biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers are currently studying how to validate the protein and use it for early diagnosis in the future.

Benefit of Good Sleep Habits

One of the biggest obstacles in allowing Americans to get more sleep is by debunking the myth that sleep equals weakness. Unfortunately society often views sleep as a form of laziness, but humans are meant to get their full eight hours of slumber.

Other ways to improve sleep habits:

  • Turn off phones and televisions before bedtime
  • Take melatonin at night
  • Reduce caffeine intake in the evening
  • Try to sleep and wake at consistent times
  • Reduce blue light exposure in the evening
  • Have a bedtime routine to help you relax (for example: a hot bath, reading, meditation, etc.)

Early Signs of Alzheimer’s

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease1 often come on slowly and gradually increase in severity over time. It can be difficult to always know if a memory lapse is simple forgetfulness or something more. If you see these early signs in you or your loved one, don’t hesitate to seek professional advice.

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life such as forgetting important dates and events, or asking for the same information over and over.
  2. Challenges in solving problems or planning. This includes trouble following a recipe or keeping track of monthly bills.
  3. Difficulty with completing familiar tasks like driving or using appliances.
  4. Losing track of dates and being confused with the passage of time.
  5. Misplacing items or accusing others of stealing things when they can’t be found.
  6. Withdrawal from work or social activities.
  7. Changes in mood or personality.
  8. Decreased or poor judgment.
  9. Struggling to find the right word in a conversation.
  10. Vision problems, or difficulty determining color and contrast.

Memory Care at Peabody

Memory loss disrupts daily life, not just for the one who suffers from it, but also for the entire family. If you believe dementia or Alzheimer’s disease might be affecting your loved one, don’t ignore the early signs. If the time comes when you need to explore memory care, visit us at Peabody. We offer specialized, attentive and respectful memory care in our homelike design. Contact us today to learn more or schedule a tour.

1. 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s. (Accessed Nov 6 2018).

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