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Less Sleep tied to Higher Levels of Alzheimer’s Protein in the Brain

Update Date: Jun 04, 2014 03:41 PM EDT

A full night's rest is vital for mental and physical health. Several studies have found that sleep deprivation can lead to impaired cognitive function and fatigue. Now, in a new study, researchers are reporting that when people lose sleep, their levels of a particular protein tied to Alzheimer's disease increase in the brain.

"We think normal healthy sleep helps reduce the amount of [amyloid] beta in the brain and if your sleep is disturbed this decrease is prevented," said the study's senior author Dr. Jurgen Claassen, from Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

In this study, the researchers recruited 26 middle-aged men who reported normal sleeping habits. Half of them were randomly assigned to the sleeping group whereas the other half were instructed to stay awake throughout the night. The researchers inserted a catheter into all of the participants' spines in order to measure the levels of amyloid-beta before and after the night session. High levels of amyloid-beta have been identified as one potential risk factor for Alzheimer's disease.

By the morning time, the researchers discovered that men in the sleeping group had amyloid-beta levels that were six percent lower than the levels measured at the baseline. The protein levels in the men who stayed awake remained the same. The team also found that people who reported higher quality of sleep had greater reductions in their amyloid-beta levels.

"We think the beta is cleared from the brain or less produced during sleep," Dr. Claassen said according to the New York Daily News. "We did a complete night of sleep deprivation which is kind of extreme, but it's similar to a week of partial sleep deprivation. Based on this and other studies, it would be good to have people look at their sleep behaviors, but not be frightened themselves if they miss a good night's sleep."

Critics of the study cautioned that the study does not actually report anything about the development of Alzheimer's disease, which is the most common form of dementia. They added that even though the study is very interesting, more research should be conducted in order to examine the link between sleep deprivation and Alzheimer's disease.

The study, "Effect of 1 Night of Total Sleep Deprivation on Cerebrospinal Fluid β-Amyloid 42 in Healthy Middle-Aged Men," was published in JAMA Neurology.

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