Sleep problems may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s research suggests, Alzheimer’s Society comment

Poor sleep may be a sign that people who are otherwise healthy may be more at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life compared to people who do not have sleep problems, says a new study.

For the study in the online issue of Neurology®, researchers recruited 101 people with an average age of 63 who had normal thinking and memory skills but who were considered at risk of developing Alzheimer’s, either having a parent with the disease or being a carrier of a gene that increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Participants were surveyed about sleep quality and provided spinal fluid samples that were tested for biological markers of Alzheimer’s disease.
 
Researchers found that people who reported worse sleep quality, more sleep problems and daytime sleepiness had more biological markers for Alzheimer’s disease in their spinal fluid than people who did not have sleep problems. Those biological markers included signs of amyloid, tau and brain cell damage and inflammation. 
 
While some of these relationships were strong when looking at everyone as a group, not everyone with sleep problems has abnormalities in their spinal fluid

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society, said:

“This study adds to previous evidence that poor quality sleep may be associated with signs of Alzheimer’s. While it appears that good quality sleep can help to keep the brain healthy, the exact relationship between sleep and Alzheimer’s risk is still unclear.

“While the study highlights that investigating any links between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease is an avenue worth exploring, it is important to remember that it was a small study that relied on people reporting their own sleep quality, which is not the most accurate measurement. It remains unknown whether poor sleep is associated with Alzheimer’s risk or whether people are sleeping poorly due to Alzheimer’s disease.

“While there is still a lot of research to be done on the relationship between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease, getting a good night’s sleep is important for lots of different health reasons. If you are worried about your sleep or your memory, please speak to your GP."