Can Sleep Disturbance Cause Alzheimer’s Disease?
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When we sleep, our brains clear away the toxins that build up during the day. But some people experience sleep disturbance. Without proper sleep, toxins can lead to daytime sleepiness and more serious long-term problems like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
What is sleep disturbance?
You might consider noise at night to be a disturbance to your sleep, but that’s not technically the term’s definition. Sleep disturbances should be regarded as a symptom of a sleep disorder. Do you have a hard time falling asleep, maintaining sleep, or getting too much sleep? These signs may point to a sleep disorder.
This may surprise some, but too much sleep can poorly impact memory. According to the Sleep Foundation, people who sleep for more than nine hours a night have an increased risk of both dementia and Alzheimer’s compared with those who log six to nine.
“Insomnia and prolonged sleep duration appear to be linked to a decline in neurocognitive functioning that can precede the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias,” said Dr. Alberto Ramos, neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at the University of Miami Health System.
Who does sleep disturbances impact?
Everyone. But some may be more predisposed to restlessness than others.
In fact, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine researchers found Hispanics have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared with non-Hispanic whites. Sleep disturbances may increase the risk of cognitive impairment.
“We followed 5,247 participants between 45 and 75 years old, giving them a neurocognitive test at the start and repeating the test seven years later,” said Dr. Ramos. “We observed that prolonged periods of sleep and chronic insomnia symptoms led to declines in memory, executive function, and processing speed. Those measures can precede the development of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Treat sleep disturbances before problems arise
Dr. Ramos said the findings build awareness of a potential link between sleep disturbance and memory and concentration issues, particularly in Hispanic patients. “We may also be able to identify at-risk patients who may benefit from early intervention to prevent or reduce the risk of dementia,” he said.
Future research may involve studying if a combination of sleep disorders and cerebrovascular disease leads to neurocognitive decline. “We may also want to look at an individual’s circadian rhythms or internal clocks, as well as genetic studies that can clarify the relationships of sleep disorders with neurocognitive decline,” he adds.
Cara Tremols is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.