According to Reuters on Oct. 21, older adults who don't get good sleep have more plaque in the brain that is associated with Alzheimer's than those who get enough sleep. However, In a type of chicken and egg situation, researchers aren't entirely sure if the bad sleep is causing plaque or if the plaque is causing bad sleep.
Nevertheless, this discovery is important all the same, as the lead author notes. "It's exciting that our findings… may point to sleep disturbances as something that can be a modifiable risk factor that can be leveraged to prevent Alzheimer's disease."
The study looked at 70 adults between the ages of 53 and 90. The participants were asked how much sleep they got every night and how often their sleep was interrupted. Researchers then looked at each brain to identify if they clumps of beta-amyloid proteins were present. In Alzheimer's patients, the amount of clumps are much higher than the clumps present in a healthy person.
Neurologist Dr. Yo-El Ju stated that research on animals has determined that the correlation can run both ways: Poor sleep can cause the plaque to occur in the brain and the plaque can also cause poor sleep.
The next step is to follow participants' brain patterns over time and see how increased amounts of sleep affect the protein clumps in the brain. This could potentially show a way to prevent Alzheimer's by improving sleep.