Sleep, cognitive decline link examined

man in bed with smartphone

New research from ECU has found another possible benefit of a good night’s sleep: difficulty getting to sleep may be associated with cognitive decline and dementia.

Researchers examined the sleeping patterns of 184 people aged over 60 and found that those who reported difficulty getting to sleep had higher levels of Amyloid Beta (Aβ) in their brain, a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

Researcher Dr Belinda Brown says that while previous studies have shown an association between sleep quality and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, this is the first time that sleep latency, or the time it takes to get to sleep, has been directly linked with Aβ levels in the brain.

“Our findings suggest that taking 30 minutes longer to get to sleep would translate to an equivalent of two years of Aβ accumulation in the brain,” she says.

“We do have to treat these results with some caution because we did not demonstrate that sleep latency is the cause of the Aβ build up, only an association.”

Dr Stephanie Rainey-Smith, who also contributed to the research, says it is likely that the link between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease is bidirectional.

“It is looking increasingly likely that sleep disturbances can be caused by Alzheimer’s disease, and evidence is suggesting that problems sleeping can increase the likelihood and severity of Alzheimer’s disease,” she says.

The researchers found no association between other factors such as sleep disturbances and sleep duration and Aβ accumulation.

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