Scientists have known that there is a connection between people’s sleep quality and brain function, but there has never been a study linking the quality of your sleep now to what happens to your brain years later. That was the hypothesis of a recent UC Berkeley study, claiming that neuroscientists have found a way to estimate a time frame of the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease based on the quality of deep and restorative sleep in a person’s younger years. Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience stated “we have found that the sleep you’re having right now is almost like a crystal ball telling you when and how fast Alzheimer’s pathology will develop in your brain.” He added “the brain washes itself during deep sleep, so there may be the chance to turn back the clock by getting more sleep earlier in life.”
Alzheimer’s is caused by the build-up of beta-amyloid plaque deposits in the brain. These deposits begin to build up several years before any symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease are noticeable. By predicting how sleep quality changes the beta-amyloid plaque build-up across multiple time points, scientists are able to measure how quickly the toxins accumulate in the brain over time, which can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Deep sleep cleanses the brain of beta-amyloid deposits, which makes a therapeutic lifestyle inclusion of sleep a possible intervention tool against cognitive decline.
The Berkeley study evaluated participants between the ages of 60-90 over the course of one year. Each participant slept in the lab for 8 hours each night while undergoing several tests. The tests recorded brain waves, heart rate, blood oxygen levels and other physiological measurements of sleep quality. Throughout the year, PET scans (Positron Emission Tomography) were performed to measure the growth rate of beta-amyloid proteins in their brains. Brain activity was measured to calculate sleep efficiency – which is the time spent in deep slow-wave sleep as opposed to just lying sleepless in bed. According to the scientists involved, the results of the study support their hypothesis of sleep quality being a biomarker and predictor of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease later on in a person’s life.
Matthew Walker stated “measuring sleep effectively helps us travel into the future and estimate where your amyloid buildup will be. If we can bend the arrow of Alzheimer’s risk downward by improving sleep, it would be a significant and hopeful advance.”
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