Scientists in the US have found cognitively healthy people with disrupted sleep patterns may be more likely to have markers associated with early Alzheimer’s disease. The study is due to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 64th Annual Meeting in April.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine, in St Louis, studied 100 people with no cognitive problems between the ages of 45 and 80. They used a monitoring device called an actigraph to measure the participants’ sleeping patterns for two weeks, and analysed sleep diaries and questionnaires.
The researchers took samples of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to check for levels of amyloid, a protein that builds in the brain in Alzheimer’s. The participants also underwent PET scans to track the amount of amyloid in their brains.
A quarter of the group had increased amounts of amyloid in the brain or abnormal levels of the protein in their CSF – changes that are believed to be linked to the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The markers were more likely to be seen in people with disrupted sleep patterns, who woke more than five times an hour during the night.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“These results are yet to be published in full, but the study does raise new questions about the possible relationship between sleep patterns and the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. It’s not clear whether any of the people in this study went on to develop Alzheimer’s, and we cannot conclude from this research that disrupted sleep causes the disease – but larger, long-term studies could help us to better understand how the two may be linked.
“Experts believe that Alzheimer’s begins to develop in mid-life, years before symptoms appear, but we still need to know much more about the changes that occur in the earliest stages of the disease. The better we can understand how Alzheimer’s develops, the greater our chance of finding an effective treatment for the disease – but that means it’s vital to invest in research.”