Can a lack of deep sleep promote Alzheimer’s Disease?

Possible Link Between Deep Sleep Deprivation and Alzheimer’s

As one of New York City’s premiere home health care service agencies, SelectCare Home Care is always on the lookout for new research that can help us better serve our clients.  To that end, a staff member recently came across an interesting NPR radio segment that discusses the possible link between a lack of deep sleep and the development of Alzheimer’s Disease and related illnesses.

For many older adults, falling asleep and maintaining a regular, uninterrupted sleep pattern can be a challenge – particularly for people experiencing dementia. A lack of physical activity during the day, discomfort that is difficult to express to caregivers and depression can all have negative impacts on sleep.

Scientists have long believed that people with Alzheimer’s Disease have difficulty sleeping because the disease impacts parts of the brain used to regulate sleep, but recent studies have shown the inverse could be true – a lack of deep sleep can actually set the stage for dementia.

This theory first gained traction in 2009, when a Washington University study found that the brains of sleep-deprived mice developed higher levels of sticky amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s Disease than mice with regular deep sleep patterns.

In 2013, these findings were reinforced when researchers at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland began to document a self-cleansing process performed by healthy, well-rested brains known as the glymphatic system. During this process, cerebrospinal fluids travel along the outside of the brain’s blood vessels, removing toxins, including amyloid plaques, when the body enters deep sleep.

While these studies have helped guide research, the methods used to document the glymphatic system to this point have been too invasive for use on human subjects and all studies have been limited to mice.

In order to verify the link between deep sleep and dementia, researchers are now enlisting the help of a powerful MRI machine that will allow them to watch the glymphatic process activate in sleeping human subjects by monitoring changes in individual salt molecules in the brain.

Researchers hope to perform their first MRI-aided human study of the glymphatic system within a year.  The biggest challenge they currently face is finding research subjects who can fall asleep within the noisy, cramped confines of OSHU’s MRI machine.

OHSU researchers hope MRI scans of sleeping subjects will confirm a connection between a lack of deep sleep and dementia.

OHSU researchers hope MRI scans of sleeping subjects will confirm a connection between a lack of deep sleep and dementia.

If a link between deep sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s can be proven, it could lead to changes in how elder care providers structure the days of their patients, as well as encourage drug developers to produce sleep aids that help users reach a deeper level of sleep than those currently on the market.

SelectCare applauds the hard work of these dedicated researchers and wishes them the best of luck as they continue their vital work.  No matter what discoveries this research might uncover, SelectCare will always be here to provide compassionate, patient-focused home health care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, no matter what challenges our clients face.

To learn more about how we can help make a difference in the lives of you and your loved ones, call us today.