Lack Of Deep Sleep May Set The Stage For Alzheimer’s

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By Lindsay Sibson

 I will never forget the first time my grandfather called me by the wrong name.

“Bitsy,” he said.

Forgetting details when he told stories or stopping mid sentence and not remembering what he wanted to say… that was ONE thing. I could accept this “side effect.”

However, this one hurt. BITSY. Who the heck is BITSY? My name doesn’t even start with a “B.” And, given I was visiting him on a weekly basis, it was quite alarming.

That precise moment was when I fully understood not only the struggle of Alzheimer’s, but also the absolute reality of the disease.  

So when I found information that indicated that not getting enough quality sleep “set the stage” for Alzheimer’s, I immediately thought red flag, red flag, RED FLAG!

It’s time you took a look at the emerging evidence regarding how lack of sleep can leave your brain vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease.

First, listen closely to this 4 minute segment in which brain scientists at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), Jeffrey Iliff and Bill Rooney, discuss the correlation between sleep habits and Alzheimer’s:

As Jeffrey Iliff states, “Changes in sleep habits may actually be setting the stage for dementia.” While you are fast asleep, your brain is working to clear out toxins that are associated with Alzheimer’s. Therefore, when you don’t get enough quality sleep, these toxins have an opportunity to build up in your brain and cause damage.

This preliminary evidence first appeared when research animal’s sleep habits were studied.

While these findings are newer, it has been known for decades that some type of correlation exists between sleep and Alzheimer’s.

Iliff and other scientists at OHSU are preparing to conduct a similar study – but with people. The information gained from this research should ultimately clarify the link between sleep problems and Alzheimer’s disease.

Furthermore, sleep disorders are quite common among people with the disease. Researchers previously believed that Alzheimer’s was “taking out the centers of the brain that are responsible for regulating sleep,” as Iliff describes.

However, the relationship between the two could be far more complicated, as suggested by 2 recent discoveries:

  • 2009: Washington University in St. Louis researchers revealed that amyloid plaques, which are associated with Alzheimer’s, develop more rapidly in the brains of sleep-deprived mice

  • 2013: Iliff was part of a team that found how lack of sleep could be rushing the development of those Alzheimer’s plaques. They also determined that while you are in deep sleep, an incredible cleansing process takes place in your brain (at least in animals).

What occurs is “the fluid that’s normally on the outside of the brain, cerebrospinal fluid – it’s a clean, clear fluid – it actually begins to recirculate back into and through the brain along the outsides of blood vessels. That suggests at least one possible way that disruption in sleep may predispose toward Alzheimer’s disease,” says Iliff.

It is this process that permits your brain to clear out toxins, including the toxins that form Alzheimer’s plaques, which is done via the glymphatic system.

However, as previously mentioned, researchers will need to apply this to a human model and study this cleansing process in further detail.

And that is no easy task.

The glymphatic systems of living mice were able to be studied by Iliff by creating a window in the skull and using powerful lasers as well as cutting edge microscopes. Although this is an effective method to study animals, it would be too invasive for people. Therefore, researchers need to find a reasonably noninvasive and safe procedure that will allow the same sort of function of studying the glymphatic system – but in humans.

Luckily, there is a possible solution.

The world’s most powerful magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) unit, currently sitting in the basement of OHSU, is so sensitive, that it should be able to detect changes in the glymphatic system. Thus, it can indicate precisely WHEN the system is turned on in a person’s brain.

Toxin removal in your brain begins when you enter deep sleep, which means there should be a specific change in the signal coming from certain salt molecules. This particular signal would indicate that fluid has started moving freely through your brain and is indicative of two things, according to researcher Rooney:

  • Young and healthy brains should have a “robust” signal, indicating that the toxin removal system is functioning well.
  • The signal should be weaker in brains of older people and those who are likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

Rooney and Iliff hope to test their approach and begin scanning the brains of participants within a year, which has been made possible due to the funding they received from the Paul G. Allen Foundation.

Still, it will not be easy. A main obstacle is finding people that are willing and able to fall asleep in the loud and cramped tunnel of the MRI machine.

Rooney comments, “It’s a tricky thing because it’s a small space. But we’ll make people as comfortable as possible and we’ll just follow them as they go through these natural stages of sleep.”

Despite that, if Rooney and Iliff are correct, the results could have a profound impact in regards to the link between sleep and Alzheimer’s. Not only will it strengthen the argument that lack of sleep can lead to Alzheimer’s disease, but it may also produce a method to identify people’s health who are at-risk, such as people that aren’t getting enough deep sleep. Not to mention it could also lead the way to new treatments!

Once again, research shows that deep sleep is a profound part of our overall health, now AND in the future.

Sleep well, my friends…

And don’t forget to SHARE this article with the ones you love!

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Lindsay Sibson

Lindsay Sibson

Lindsay Sibson turned her lifelong dream of traveling the world into a reality when she first stepped on a plan in April of 2014. With the simple intention of learning more about this beautiful world, she stepped away from corporate America to explore an alternative lifestyle of long term international travel, volunteering, blogging and pursuing a blissfully happy and fulfilling way of life.

Lindsay documents her journey in hopes of empowering others to find their passion, reignite their spark and freshen their outlook on life. Connect with her on her website and follow her travels on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/_traveloholic_).

Through her blog, Lindsay documents her journey in hopes of empowering others to find their passion, reignite their spark and freshen their outlook on life.
Lindsay Sibson

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