Researchers have found strong links between a lack of deep sleep and an increase in toxic proteins in the brain that are believed to trigger Alzheimer’s disease. The scientists suggest sleeping can ‘cleanse’ the brain, offering hope to many Alzheimer’s sufferers.
The researchers conducted tests on a group of adults aged between 65 and 81. The tests aimed to discover how they functioned after differing levels of sleep.
They also looked for beta-amyloid, which is a protein that forms ‘plaques’ in the brain that are thought to kill nerve cells.
It was found that those who were deprived of regular deep sleep had the highest levels of beta-amyloid, and performed worst in memory tests.
The study also discovered the ‘vicious cycle’ that the protein causes – corroding memory and disrupting sleep further.
The team from the University of California welcomed the discovery. They said they hope to help prevent future memory loss in people by treating sleep problems with behavioural therapy and exercise.
The team believe that simply having a good night’s sleep on a regular basis can help remove the beta-amyloid protein from the body.
In the journal Nature Neuroscience, the senior author of the study, Professor Walker, said: “Our findings reveal a new pathway through which Alzheimer’s disease may cause memory decline later in life.
“Sleep could be a novel therapeutic target for fighting back against memory impairment in older adults and even those with dementia.
“Sleep is helping wash away toxic proteins at night, preventing them from building up and from potentially destroying brain cells. It’s providing a power cleanse for the brain.”
Leading charities welcome the research, but they believe more research is needed on a much bigger scale.