Sleep is known to impact many areas of our health, and it poor sleep has been believed to be linked to diseases such as Alzheimer’s for a while, but new research is showing exactly how strong that connection is.
New studies are now suggesting that irregular breathing due to sleep disorders such as sleep apnea could accelerate the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as contribute to a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia altogether.
The correlation between Alzheimer’s and sleep disorders had been noticed before, but the issue was always attributed to old age, rather than to the sleep disorder itself. Now researchers are finding that disordered breathing during sleep causes a faster buildup of the beta-amyloid plaques that Alzheimer’s is known for. The less oxygen the person’s brain receives during sleep, the more beta-amyloid plaques build up. When these plaques are produced too quickly or not cleared away by the body quickly enough, they get in the way of neural synapses and disrupt the neurons’ ability to transport messages, causing memory loss and impaired mental function.
“Sleep apnea actually accelerated the movement into mild cognitive impairment diagnosis for individuals who had been cognitively healthy just a few years prior,” says Maria Carrillo, the Alzheimer Association’s chief science officer. “We think that oxygen deprivation could accelerate the process that creates beta-amyloid.”
While this may be scary news for those with sleep apnea, it’s also good news in a way. The results indicate that treating sleep apnea may decelerate the progression of Alzheimer’s and even decrease the risk of its occurrence. If you have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about whether you should be screened for Alzheimer’s and what you can do to treat your sleep disorder.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?