UW study links poor sleep to potential for Alzheimer’s

UW Health hospitals

A study by University of Wisconsin researchers suggests that poor sleep in middle age could be one of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Senior author Dr. Ruth Benca said in a release that despite correlation, the study doesn’t show whether poor sleep causes amyloid plaques to develop in the brain or whether amyloid plagues prevent quality sleep.

Researchers found that a higher burden of amyloid plaque was strongly associated with people reporting greater sleepiness or difficulty sleeping, according to the release.

Researchers said it will take more research to determine whether amyloid buildup leads to poor sleep or if poor sleep leads to amyloid buildup.

According to the release, this is the first time the connection has been observed in younger people who are not yet showing signs of cognitive decline.

“If it turns out that poor sleep is causing amyloid to build up, then improving the quality of sleep could be a way of slowing the disease progression,” lead author Kate Sprecher said in the release. “We already have a number of effective clinical strategies for treating sleep disorders and improving sleep.”

Researchers said sleepiness could also be an early warning sign that amyloid is beginning to build up, which opens the window for earlier treatment that could be more successful.

According to the release, current treatments generally begin after cognitive decline and are not very effective.

Participants in the study are part of a long-running Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention study, which is tracking 1,500 people to determine risks for developing the disease, according to the release.