Poor sleep could be an Alzheimer’s disease risk factor

A good night's rest might help stave off onset of Alzheimer's disease.

"Changes in sleep habits may actually be setting the stage" for dementia, says Jeffrey Iliff, a brain scientist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, to National Public Radio.

Researchers have found the brain appears to clear out toxins linked to Alzheimer's during deep sleep. In the study, animals that didn't get enough rest were found to have a buildup of toxins that could damage the brain.

Researchers have known for decades there is a link, as sleep disorders are common among people with the disease. Iliff and Bill Rooney, who directs the university's Advanced Imaging Research Center, plan to study how a lack of sleep in humans could speed the development of Alzheimer's plaques through a cleansing process that occurs during deep sleep.

This process, through the glymphatic system, allows the brain to clear out toxins, including the toxins that form Alzheimer's plaques. That could lead to potential new treatments.

"It could be anything from having people exercise more regularly, or new drugs," Rooney says. "A lot of the sleep aids don't particularly focus on driving people to deep sleep stages."

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Topics: Alzheimer's/Dementia