If you’re the kind of person who struggles to get to sleep at night, it could be doing more than making you grumpy the next morning. New research from Edith Cowan University has found a link between poor sleep and Alzheimer’s disease.
While previous research had described a lack of sleep as a side effect of Alzheimer’s disease, new research has suggested that poor sleep may contribute to higher amyloid levels.
The research, published in the Translational Psychiatry Journal, discovered that people with certain genetic variations in Aquaporin-4 (AQP4) proteins had poorer sleep patterns. These individuals also had the potential to present a build-up of beta-amyloid in the brain, a concern given this is the main component of amyloid plaques found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. AQP4 is a significant component of the glymphatic system, a system the brain uses to remove high levels of beta-amyloid.
Researchers focused on AQP4 in the study as it plays a big role in the brain’s night-time ‘housekeeping’ system. When it comes to ridding the body of high amyloid levels, AQP4 act like tiny drains that remove the toxins during sleep, however, some people with genetic variants in AQP4 had higher levels of beta-amyloid on the brain.
At present, it is believed 45 per cent of people living with Alzheimer’s experience a range of sleep problems including frequent awakenings, making it difficult to fall asleep.
Associate Professor Simon Laws, who leads the Collaborative Genomics group in ECU’s School of Medical and Health Science, explained the new findings are promising.
“For the first time, we’ve found that people with genetic variants in AQP4 who also have problems getting to sleep and sleep for shorter periods have high levels of beta-amyloid in the brain,” he explained in a statement. “This adds to strong evidence to the idea that the glymphatic system is vital, and suggests genetic variants in AQP4 may lead to a poorly functioning glymphatic system.”
As such, researchers believe a good night’s sleep is vital, particularly because the glymphatic system doesn’t work while people are awake. People who struggle to sleep or wake regularly could unintentionally be increasing the build-up of beta-amyloid on the brain.
Stephanie Rainey-Smith, from ECU’s Centre of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and Care, told Starts at 60 there are things people can try to improve their sleep.
“Ensure that you are exposed to natural light to help maintain a good sleep-wake cycle,” she said. “Limit naps to no more than 30 minutes, and try to undertake some aerobic exercise such as walking or cycling (even 10 minutes can help improve sleep quality).”
Rainey-Smith added that a diet is particularly important. “Avoid consuming heavy foods, caffeine, and nicotine close to bed time, and try to maintain a regular bedtime routine, which could include relaxing activities such as reading a book or taking a warn shower,” she said.
She also encouraged good habits in the bedroom.
“Go to bed only when sleepy, try to maintain a cool room temperature, and avoid bright light from electronic devices such as phones, tablets and laptops,” she said. “If you are unable to fall asleep, or return to sleep within 15-20 minutes, try not to worry. Instead, get out of bed, go to another room and return only when sleepy again.
“Also try to get up at the same time each morning, regardless of the amount of sleep you had the previous night.”