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Sleep Problems May Be Early Sign Of Alzheimer’s Disease

Mar 12th, 2013

sleep problems Early Sign Of Alzheimer's DiseaseCan’t sleep? It could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, a new study suggests.

The study, published in JAMA Neurology point to the possible link between lack of sleep and brain plaques, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

People suffering from early stages of Alzheimer’s disease are likely to experience sleep disruptions. However, they may not suffer from memory loss or other cognitive problems characteristic of full-blown disease, researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine said.

According to the researchers, the link between sleep loss and Alzheimer’s may provide the key to early detection of the disease.

“As we start to treat people who have markers of early Alzheimer’s, changes in sleep in response to treatments may serve as an indicator of whether the new treatments are succeeding,” researchers said.

For the study, researchers gathered data from 145 volunteers, aged 45 to 75 years old and cognitively normal when the test began.

Volunteers recorded their sleeping patterns for two weeks, noting the time they went to bed and the time they got up, the number of naps taken on the previous day, and other sleep-related data.

Participants’ activity levels were also tracked using sensors worn on the wrist and their spinal fluids were analyzed for markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Most people don’t move when they’re asleep, and we developed a way to use the data we collected as a marker for whether a person was asleep or awake,” said Yo-El Ju, co-author and assistant professor of neurology. “This let us assess sleep efficiency, which is a measure of how much time in bed is spent asleep.”

Researchers found that participants who tested positive for early Alzheimer’s disease had poorer sleep efficiency (80.4%) than those without the markers for the disease (83%).

In addition, volunteers with preclinical disease were in bed just as long other participants, but did not sleep as long. They also spent more time napping.

“When we looked specifically at the worst sleepers, those with sleep efficiency lower than 75%, they were more than five times more likely to have preclinical Alzheimer’s disease than good sleepers,” Ju said.

There is also strong evidence that Alzheimer’s plaques cause sleep disruptions, and in turn cause more Alzheimer’s plaques.

“We think this may help us get a better feel for the way this connection flows — does sleep loss drive Alzheimer’s, does Alzheimer’s lead to sleep loss, or is it a combination?” Ju said.

“That will help us determine whether we can change the course of disease with pharmaceuticals or other treatments.”

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