Getting enough sleep is extremely important for health at all ages, but it may be especially important for seniors. A recent study from the University of California, Berkeley, found that poor sleep is linked to the buildup of beta amyloid plaques, which are associated with the mental decline that comes with Alzheimer's disease.
The researchers brought in 26 mentally healthy people between the ages of 70 and 79 for brain imaging and a sleep study at the university's Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory. MRI imaging was used to determine the participants' levels of beta amyloid plaques, and participants were rated on their ability to recall word pairs before and after they spent the night at the lab. Participants' brain waves were measured overnight to determine the quality of their sleep.
The results showed that the participants who had the most amyloid plaques in the medial prefrontal cortex slept more poorly and showed more difficulties with memory. This demonstrates that there is a connection between sleep quality and amyloid plaque buildup that could be put to use in efforts to delay the onset of Alzheimer's.
"This discovery offers hope," said Berkeley neuroscience professor and senior study author Matthew Walker in a statement. "Sleep could be a novel therapeutic target for fighting back against memory impairment in older adults and even those with dementia."
However, the study does not prove that poor sleep leads to amyloid buildup and Alzheimer's, only that there is a connection between these three elements. Previous studies in mice have shown that during sleep, the brain shrinks in order to make room for cerebrospinal fluids that literally "wash" toxins out of the brain, leading experts to think a similar phenomenon might be happening here.
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