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Study uncovers potential link between sleep and Alzheimer's disease

October 23, 2013

There's no denying that sleep is an important part of healthy living at any age, and a new study suggest that older adults who do not get enough shuteye may be putting themselves at risk for cognitive health issues. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that there was a substantial relationship between the quality and duration of sleep and the presence of biomarkers commonly associated with Alzheimer's disease, according to results published in JAMA Neurology.

The study team drew on data from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging to analyze participants' self-reported sleep variables and the amount of beta amyloid present in the brain. By relying on results from PET scans, researchers found that seniors who reported getting less sleep tended to have higher levels of beta amyloid. While experts note that the findings can't confirm a casual link between sleep and Alzheimer's, given that it is a modifiable risk factor, the results could have a significant impact.

"These findings are important in part because sleep disturbances can be treated in older people. To the degree that poor sleep promotes the development of Alzheimer's disease, treatments for poor sleep or efforts to maintain healthy sleep patterns may help prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer disease," said Dr. Adam Spira, the study's lead author.

Getting enough sleep is certainly a cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle for seniors, but many older adults do not get enough rest, according to WebMD. This can be for a variety of reasons, but some of the most common causes are chronic health conditions, medications and changes to the body's internal clock. Seniors can take proactive steps to improve their sleep including following a set routine, spending time outdoors and discussing medications with their doctors.