Interrupted sleep may lead to Alzheimer’s, new studies show

Getting a solid night’s sleep is crucial not only for feeling good the next day – there is increasing evidence that it may also protect against dementia, according to new research presented Tuesday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London.

Three studies by researchers at Wheaton College found significant connections between breathing disorders that interrupt sleep and the accumulation of biomarkers for Alzheimer’s Disease. Treating the problems with dental appliances or CPAP machines that force air into airways could help lower the risk of dementia or slow its progress, the researchers said.

People with sleep-disordered breathing experience repeated episodes of hypopnea (under breathing) and apnea (not breathing) during sleep. The most common form, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), occurs in around 3 in 10 men and 1 in 5 women, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

It occurs when the upper airway closes fully or partially while efforts to breathe continue, and it can wake a person up 50 or 60 times a night, interrupting the stages of sleep necessary for a restful night. It often starts in middle age, before clinical signs of Alzheimer’s usually appear.

In one study of 516 cognitively normal adults 71 to 78, those with sleep disordered breathing had greater increases in beta-amyloid deposits over a three-year period. This was true regardless of whether they had the ApoeE4 gene considered a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.

A second study found that OSA was associated with increases in amyloid buildup in older people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and a third found such an association in both normal and MCI subjects.

While correlation between sleep apnea and dementia has been documented in the past, these are among the first longitudinal studies to look at the relationship between sleep disruption and the biomarkers, such as beta-amyloid accumulation, that are commonly associated with Alzheimer’s Disease, said…

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