If poor sleep leads to Alzheimer’s, I may be screwed

Pixabay Photo: Creative Commons Attribution Licence

Pixaboy photo: Creative commons attribution licence.

True confession time: 2015 has not been a stellar year for me in terms of anxiety, more specifically, my angst around Alzheimer’s. My once mild, self-involved preoccupation with developing the disease ramped up to high gear this winter after both my parents were diagnosed with dementia.

I’m not actually worried about inheriting the disease—the genetic link has not been proven and I‘m adopted, anyhow, it’s just that, well, dementia is so in my face nowadays. With my father, the threads of unreality run thick through his conversation. On top of this, I must endlessly introduce myself to the ladies at the home where my mother now lives. And then there are the unlimited exchanges with 50-somethings who, like me, are dealing with this sad and rather horrifying disease.

To reassure myself that my memory will be good to go for another four decades, I’m researching what I can and cannot do to stop Alzheimer’s in its tracks, before it comes tapping on my brain. Sometimes, though, my research fuels my uneasiness instead of abating it. Like this Time article on a study suggesting that disrupted sleep patterns may contribute to a higher buildup of amyloid, the protein responsible for the hallmark plaques found in Alzheimer’s disease. According to Bryce Mander, a postdoctoral researcher in the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at University of California, Berkeley, the data strongly suggests a causal link between bad sleep, poor memory and the toxic accumulation of beta-amyloid proteins.

This is definitely not good news for someone with fibromyalgia, like myself, who has regular sleep disturbances and impaired deep sleep.

I take some small solace in Mander’s belief (found in this other article about the research) that “if we intervene to improve sleep, perhaps we can break that causal chain.” His colleague Matthew Walker, the director of the lab and a professor of neuroscience, is also emphatic that people in their 50s, 60s and 70s should prioritize sleep in terms of their health risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

The team has received a major National Institutes of Health grant to conduct a longitudinal study to test their hypothesis that sleep is an early warning sign or biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease. I, for one, will be waiting for word of that study. In the meantime, I’ve upped my sleep meds some and I’ve added deep sleep to my list of health fixations to power-research.