Recent research on the sleep patterns of older adults has shown that unique sleep brain wave patterns can be linked to an increased risk of accumulating brain proteins that can lead to memory impairment.
A research team led by Matthew P. Walker at the University of California, Berkeley, found higher amounts of amyloid, which is the protein responsible for plaques found in Alzheimer’s, in participants with more disrupted deep-sleep patterns, according to a study published in Nature Neuroscience. The 26 cognitively normal study participants were given simple paired-word memory tests before and after sleep. The researchers found that higher amounts of amyloid and disturbed sleep were associated with worse performance on the tests.
The study describes for the first time a relationship among a unique pattern of sleep brain waves, amyloid buildup and memory performance, researchers say. “It wasn’t just all of deep sleep that was disrupted but a very specific electrical signature deficit that we found,” says Walker in a Time article. He notes that the study volunteers were not followed to determine if mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s developed.
Walker notes that poor sleep may contribute to the long-term accumulation of amyloid. “Sleep is a great early warning beacon, a distress call that we can latch onto, to potentially alert us to the beginnings of Alzheimer’s,” says Walker.