Disruption in sleep associated with the accumulation of a protein in the brain (linked to Alzheimer’s disease) may cause memory problems in healthy older adults, reports a paper in Nature Neuroscience published this week.
Matthew Walker and colleagues studied the ability of 26 healthy adults, between ages 70 and 79, to remember word pairs before and after a night’s sleep. Their research shows that the extent of the protein beta-amyloid accumulation in the brain predicts a reduction in slow wave brain activity during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and an increase in memory impairments.
The authors suggest that this accumulation disrupts slow wave brain activity during sleep and that this protein induced disruption, in turn, directly impairs long-term memory consolidation.
Dr Ian Le Guillou, Research Officer at Alzheimer’s Society said:
‘We already know that dementia can affect sleep. This small study of older people without dementia, suggests the build-up in the brain of the protein beta-amyloid, a key component of Alzheimer’s disease, is linked to sleep disruption and poorer memory but the evidence isn’t strong enough to prove it actually causes these problems. We need more research in bigger groups to better understand whether poor sleep contributes to the development of memory problems and could be a target for future treatments.
People who have a bad night’s sleep shouldn’t be worried that it is a sign of developing memory problems, but we do know that regularly getting enough sleep can help keep the brain healthy.