Lack of Sleep Boosts Levels of Alzheimer’s Proteins


Source: Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

Summary: Researchers in a new study, have found that sleep deprivation increases the levels of brain proteins such as amyloid beta that is linked to Alzheimer’s disease.


Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, characterized by memory loss and cognitive decline. More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of American adults don’t get enough sleep. Chronic poor sleep has been linked to cognitive decline. Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that sleep deprivation increases the levels of brain proteins such as amyloid beta that is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. A wakeful brain churns away through the night, it produces more of the Alzheimer’s protein amyloid beta than its waste-disposal system can handle. Levels of the protein rise, potentially setting off a sequence of changes to the brain that can end with dementia. The research findings were published in the journal Annals of Neurology.

Sleep Deprivation

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The research team studied eight people ages 30 to 60 with no sleep or cognitive problems. The participants were assigned randomly to one of 3 scenarios – having a normal night’s sleep without any sleep aids; staying up all night; or sleeping after treatment with sodium oxybate (a medication for sleep disorders). The researchers took samples of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord every 2 hours to monitor how amyloid beta levels change with time of day and tiredness. They observed amyloid beta levels in sleep-deprived people were 25 to 30% higher than in those who had slept the night through. A sleeping brain produces much less. Researchers said that further studies are needed to determine whether improving sleep in people with sleep problems can reduce amyloid beta levels and risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Asst. Prof. Brendan Lucey said, “Understanding how lack of sleep relates to the concentrations of amyloid beta in the brain will help direct future research into therapeutics”, “This information could help us figure out how to reduce amyloid beta deposition over time in people whose sleep is chronically disrupted.”


More Information: Brendan P. Lucey et al, “Effect of sleep on overnight CSF amyloid-β kinetics”, Annals of Neurology (2017). DOI: 10.1002/ana.25117 


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