Written by Active Minds on Monday the 7th of December 2015.
While Alzheimer’s has long been known to cause sleep disturbances in patients, one team at the University of California Irvine has pioneered research that suggests the reverse could also be true
In a series of experiments involving creating jet lag-style conditions for mice, researchers found that disturbed sleep patterns led to significantly increased cognitive impairment.
The team, led by UCI biomedical engineering professor Gregory Brewer, found that the problem lay with chemical changes in the brain induced by disturbances to daily day-to-night cycles. In mice exposed to jet lag-style conditions or with disturbed sleep patterns, a severe reduction of glutathione – an antioxidant vital to preventing cell damage associated with learning and memory loss – was noted.
While this chemical link goes some way to explaining the difficulties sleeping often found in Alzheimer’s patients, it also seems to suggest that unregulated sleep or frequently disturbed sleeping patterns might have a part to play in the onset or worsening of the condition. This could then mean that healthy sleeping habits are as important as exercise,, and a healthy diet to those living with Alzheimer’s.
Understanding the chemical changes involved in the onset of Alzheimer’s is vital, Professor Brewer says, as it gives future researchers a much better chance of developing effective drug treatments in the long-term
However the research could also prove invaluable for caregivers and the family members of people with dementia, who will be able to put the results to use in real life to encourage loved ones with dementia to enjoy healthy sleeping habits that could both improve their wellbeing and help to avoid worsening the condition in the future.