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Alzheimer's disease and sleep may be linked, says JAMA Neuro study

October 21, 2013
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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Want residents to ace their brain imaging tests for Alzheimer’s disease? Helping to ensure that they get an adequate amount of high-quality sleep may help.

That’s according to a study published in JAMA Neurology, which found that shorter sleep duration and poorer sleep quality are associated with abnormal brain imaging findings suggesting Alzheimer disease in older adults. It's too early to say whether better sleep could prevent or slow progression of the disease, however, says Adam P. Spira, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, but intervention trials could help answer that question.

Deposits of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain are one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease. Fluctuations in their levels may be regulated by sleep-wake patterns, the authors write in the study background.

The investigators used data from 70 adults with an average age of 76 in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging to study whether self-reported sleep factors were associated with beta-amyloid deposition measured by brain imaging. Study participants reported sleep that ranged from no more than five hours to more than seven hours. Those reporting shorter sleep duration and lower sleep quality had greater beta-amyloid buildup.

The authors say that their study design would not enable them to determine whether sleep disturbance precedes beta-amyloid deposition, so they are unable to say that poor sleep causes Alzheimer’s disease.

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