Is there a link between Sleep Deprivation & Alzheimer’s?

Over the past few years, we’ve all read about how sleep deprivation – in our sleep-deprived society – may be responsible not only for poor health, but also for poor performance on the job, poor driving habits, and a long list of other “poors.” And we all know, by now, that sleep-deprived people are generally prone to more diseases and illnesses, not only physical, but also emotional.

But, until now, we never knew that not getting enough sleep could possibly be fatal.

A just-released study may indicate a possible link between sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s. And, to a Boomer generation that has always believed that sleep was an inconvenient interruption to the process of making more money and creating better lives – and, let’s face it, partying – there could hardly be worse news.

Basically, the new study focuses on a byproduct of brain activity called amyloid beta. This byproduct is considered a marker for Alzheimer’s. And it apparently rises during the day and decreases at night – while we’re sleeping.

The findings, at this point, are still quite preliminary. But, according to researchers, these findings may indicate that the brain’s low activity during sleep allows the body to somehow rid itself of amyloid beta. Levels of amyloid beta in older adults with Alzheimer’s appear to be constant. In this study, however peaks in peoples’ sleep and wakefulness constantly occurred before peaks and drops in amyloid beta levels…further suggesting, to scientists, a possible link between sleep deprivation and the possibility of developing this debilitating – and fatal – disease.

The researchers in this study are saying that the scientific evidence gathered so far – small as it is – nevertheless indicates at least a need for more study. One scientist referred to the evidence as providing “tantalizing hints.” And another referred to the fact that, just as exercise is considered a way to lower your risk of getting Alzheimer’s, we may one day feel the same about sleep.

We all know people who brag about how they can “get by” on four or five hours of sleep a night. (And, often, the voice we’re hearing making that declaration is our own!) It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the Boomer generation considers this, somehow, as a mark of bravado, rather than an extremely unhealthy habit?

Can a lifetime of poor sleeping habits among the Baby Boomer generation be addressed by getting more sleep now? No one knows for sure. And it may take many years before we’ll have even a vague idea, let alone a good idea.

But that leads to a tantalizing question. What if it’s true? What if it’s true that increasing your sleep – even at this stage of the game – could decrease your chances of getting Alzheimer’s?

Would you do it?

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Posted in Alice Reiter Feld Florida Elder Law Monday Memos

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