It’s still unclear what causes Alzheimer’s disease, so when new studies show potential connections between lifestyle factors and Alzheimer’s, people often become alarmed. A new study has found a potential correlation between sleep quality and Alzheimer’s, which may leave many insomniacs and poor sleepers feeling nervous. However, doctors are reminding people not to be too afraid of Alzheimer’s just because they tend to sleep poorly. Here’s what you need to know.
A study published in the journal Neurology analyzed the sleep patterns of 101 people over the age of 63. They asked the participants about their sleep patterns, and then analyzed them for various spinal fluids and plaques that are known precursors to Alzheimer’s disease. They found that individuals who suffered from sleep problems were more likely to show signs of these spinal precursors.
Correlation Does Not Mean Causation
However, alarming headlines aside, a lot more research is needed before scientists can draw a conclusion between sleep problems and Alzheimer’s. For one, the study only involved 101 people, and while the researchers did control for factors such as age and family history, the sample studied was far too small for a conclusive result.
Secondly, just because a person suffers poor sleep quality doesn’t mean they are going to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
“Not everyone with sleep problems is destined to develop Alzheimer’s disease,” Barbara B. Bendlin, a senior author on the study, told the New York Times. “We’re looking at groups of people, and over the whole group we find the association of poor sleep with the markers of Alzheimer’s. But when you look at individuals, not everyone shows that pattern.”
Health Benefits of Sleep
While there is no conclusive link between sleep quality and Alzheimer’s, that doesn’t mean it isn’t important to ask why and how a potential correlation may exist.
Some scientists believe the connection could be beta amyloid, a protein that is found in large amounts in the spinal plaques of Alzheimer’s patients. According to the New York Times, at least one animal study has found that the body may be better at detoxifying this substance during the deep sleep cycle.
And that’s just one of the ways that sleep makes us healthier. The CDC has labelled insufficient sleep as a public health issue, noting that in addition to sleep’s role in detoxifying the body and promoting good heart health, it is also instrumental in helping people avoid accidents.
So when it comes to self-care, don’t downplay the role of a good night’s sleep. It may be less trendy than probiotics or special diets, but it’s one of the most important things we can do for our bodies.