Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Lack of Sleep May Lead to Alzheimer's Disease

Not getting enough sleep may be a leading cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Some new studies have shown that a lack of quality sleep may lead to a buildup of a protein that is shown to cause Alzheimer’s.  “Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have found compelling evidence that poor sleep -- particularly a deficit of the deep, restorative slumber -- is a channel through which the beta-amyloid protein, believed to trigger Alzheimer's disease, attacks the brain's long-term memory” (University of California – Berkeley, 2015).  They believe that the lack of restorative sleep allows the beta-amyloid protein to build up, causing a weakening of the memory.

Beta-amyloid starts out as a single molecule but these molecules tend to bunch up together.
As they bunch up they form a plaque that can be seen in Alzheimer’s patients. A study at Stanford University School of Medicine showed that “for the first time that in this clustered form, beta-amyloid can bind strongly to a receptor on nerve cells, setting in motion an intercellular process that erodes their synapses with other nerve cells” (Stanford Medicine, 2013). We learned in class that the synapses are how the cells send and receive electric charges in the nervous system. If these synapses get blocked the cells cannot function properly and can lead to the cells death. As more and more of the cells die this leads to severe memory loss which is the hallmark for Alzheimer’s.

It has been shown that there is a buildup of beta-amyloid in people who had Alzheimer’s and those who had a sleeping disorder. “ Moreover, a 2013 University of Rochester study found that the brain cells of mice would shrink during non-rapid-eye-movement (non-REM) sleep to make space for cerebrospinal fluids to wash out toxic metabolites such as beta-amyloid” (University of California – Berkeley, 2015).  This helps to show that sleep can help to get rid of some of the buildup of this toxic protein. They are still trying to figure out whether a buildup of the protein causes poor sleep or if poor sleep causes a buildup. They are still doing research on which is the leading factor.

To see how sleep affects the memory and the buildup of the beta-amyloid in people researchers at Berkley did a study where they had people memorize a list of words and then go to sleep to see how much they remembered the next day. Using brain imaging and other diagnostic tools they were able to show that those who got a good night sleep had a lower level of beta-amyloid and were able to remember more the next day than those who had the poorest quality of sleep.  This shows that the quality of sleep we get can affect the amount of beta-amyloid.
Heavy deposits of the toxic protein, beta-amyloid, shown in red in the brain on the right, are linked to poor sleep and may be paving the way for Alzheimer’s disease. A brain benefiting from deep sleep brain waves and an absence of beta-amyloid is shown on the left.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Bryce Mander and Matthew Walker

If sleep is the leading cause of Alzheimer’s this may be considered a good thing. Getting more sleep is treatable. There are many ways that people can increase their amounts of sleep including exercise, therapy, and maybe even electrical stimulation that amplify the brain waves during sleep. Just getting enough sleep could maybe decrease your likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s or decrease the effects of the disease. More studies are going to be done to solidify the link between sleep and Alzheimer’s. 
Works Cited:
University of California - Berkeley. "Poor sleep linked to toxic buildup of Alzheimer's protein, memory loss." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 June 2015. <>.

Stanford Medicine. "Scientists Reveal How Beta-amyloid May Cause Alzheimer's." News Center. Stanford Medicine, n.d. Web. 10 June 2015. <>.


  1. I find this information extremely interesting, mainly because getting enough sleep seems to be a fairly easy fix in most people's lives. Since the link between Alzheimer's and lack of sleep is now known, hopefully doctors can begin encouraging patients even more to get the recommended amount of sleep. Personally, just knowing that the risk is there is enough to make me think twice about how much sleep I get on a nightly basis.

  2. This is interesting. Alzheimer’s disease is caused by poor quality of sleep. Usually, when one does not get enough sleep they are likely to have a protein build up which can result in Alzheimer’s. University of California’s scientists have established reliable evidence which shows that the Alzheimer’s disease triggers the beta-amyloid protein. A simple experiment conducted by the researchers in Berkley supports this theory. People who managed to memorize certain words and then had a good night sleep were able to recall most of the information. In contrast, people who did not get proper sleep could not recall much of what they had memorized. This scenario then implies that the quality of sleep greatly influences the ability of a person to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Nonetheless, Alzheimer may not be considered a big problem because a number of steps can be taken to ensure people get a good sleep. Initiatives like therapy and exercise is the way to go in order to enhance quality sleep and thus keep Alzheimer’s disease at bay.