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Lack of Sleep may Increase the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Insomnia increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease – Research Finding

Young and middle-aged adults who suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders may be more likely to develop Alzheimer’s in later life, research in mice suggests.

insomnia

Insomnia may raise levels of amyloid beta in the brain. The protein is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Photograph: Getty

Chronic lack of sleep may promote the development of Alzheimer’sdisease, two new studies suggest. The findings may have implications for people suffering from insomnia and other sleep disorders.

Researchers monitored levels of amyloid beta, a protein fragment known to be linked to Alzheimer’s, in the brains of sleep-deprived mice with symptoms of the disease.

They found that preventing the mice from sleeping caused a 25% increase in amyloid beta levels. The peptide builds up in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers to form damaging plaques.

Amyloid beta levels were generally higher when mice were active than when they were sleeping, and animals that stayed awake longer had higher amounts of the peptide in their brains. The research will be published tomorrow in the journal Science.

Another study, also published in Science, links the finding to humans, showing that amyloid beta levels in the spinal fluid of volunteers increased when they were awake and fell during sleep.

Professor David Holtzman from the Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St Louis, US, where both studies were carried out, said: “The results suggest that we may need to prioritise treating sleep disorders not only for their many acute effects, but also for potential long-term impacts on brain health.”

The scientists also found a link with orexin, a protein involved in regulating the sleep cycle. When orexin was injected into the brains of mice, the animals stayed awake longer and levels of amyloid beta in their brains increased.

A drug that blocked the action of orexin led to a significant reduction in levels and increased the amount of sleep.

Three weeks of chronic sleep deprivation was enough to accelerate the deposition of amyloid plaque in the brains of the mice. But after two months of treatment with the orexin blocker, the deposits had shrunk by more than 80% in some cases.

“This suggests the possibility that a treatment like this could be tested to see if it could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Prof Holtzman.

He pointed out that as people age and their risk of Alzheimer’s increases, they usually sleep for shorter periods.

Further studies are being considered to see whether chronic sleep loss in young and middle-aged adults increases the risk of Alzheimer’s in later life.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, affecting an estimated 700,000 people in the UK. The figure is expected to double within a generation.

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Lack of sleep linked to higher risk of illness in teenagers

Newly released findings from Bradley Hospital published in the Journal of Sleep Research have found that acute illnesses, such as colds, flu, and gastroenteritis were more common among healthy adolescents who got less sleep at night. Additionally, the regularity of teens’ sleep schedules was found to impact their health. The study, titled “Sleep patterns are associated with common illness in adolescents,” was led by Kathryn Orzech, Ph.D. of the Bradley Hospital Sleep Research Laboratory.

Orzech and her team compared three outcomes bSleep disturbanceetween longer and shorter sleepers: number of illness bouts, illness duration, and school absences related to illness. The team found that bouts of illness declined with longer sleep for both male and female high school students. Longer sleep was also generally protective against school absences that students attributed to illness. There were gender differences as well, with males reporting fewer illness bouts than females, even with similar sleep durations.

Orzech’s team analyzed total sleep time in teens for six-day windows both before and after a reported illness and found a trend in the data toward shorter sleep before illness vs. wellness. Due to the difficulty of finding teens whose illnesses were spaced in such a way to be statistically analyzed, Orzech also conducted qualitative analysis, examining individual interview data for two short-sleeping males who reported very different illness profiles. This analysis suggested that more irregular sleep timing across weeknights and weekends (very little sleep during the week and “catching up” on sleep during the weekend), and a preference for scheduling work and social time later in the evening hours can both contribute to differences in illness outcomes, conclusions that are also supported in the broader adolescent sleep literature.

“Some news reaches the general public about the long-term consequences of sleep deprivation, such as the links between less sleep and weight gain,” said Orzech. “However, most of the studies of sleep and health have been done under laboratory conditions that cannot replicate the complexities of life in the real world. Our study looked at rigorously collected sleep and illness data among adolescents who were living their normal lives and going to school across a school term.”

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