Trouble Sleeping Could Spell Alzheimer's

Trouble Sleeping Could Spell Alzheimer's

Written by Alex Reid
Posted September 10, 2012

A new study suggests that sleep patterns may be the key to identifying Alzheimer's early-on.

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine used a mouse model to monitor levels of the beta amyloid protein, which is an early marker of Alzheimer's disease. In both mice and humans, these levels normally rise and fall throughout the course of a day, but begin to form permanent plaques in patients with Alzheimer's.

The study found that in mice with plaques, sleeping patterns were significantly disrupted. Nocturnal mice normally sleep for 40 minutes during every hour of daylight. However, when the beta amyloid plaques formed, the mice were only sleeping 30 minutes per hour.

Professor David Holtzman, one of the researchers involved in the study, explains, “If sleep abnormalities begin this early in the course of human Alzheimer's disease, those changes could provide us with an easily detectable sign of [the disease]." This could be a huge step in Alzheimer's research because patients typically do not begin to display signs of the disease until it is too late, and parts of the brain have already been destroyed.

If humans follow a similar pattern as mice when it comes to the development of Alzheimer's, then trouble sleeping could be an early indicator of the disease, allowing patients to start seeking treatment much sooner than ever before.

However, there are many other factors that contribute to loss of sleep, and studies of mice are not always a reliable indication of what will happen in humans. Nonetheless, Dr. Marie Janson of Alzheimer's Research UK is calling for more research to determine a possible link between sleep patterns and Alzheimer's.

"There has already been research linking changes in sleep patterns to a decline in thinking skills,” said Dr. Janson, “but these results suggest that disrupted sleep may also be a warning sign of Alzheimer's.”