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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Lack of Sleep May Be Linked to Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease

A man lying awake in bed at night

The study is among the first to demonstrate that sleep may play an important role in human beta-amyloid clearance.

Photo: diane39/iStock

Losing just one night of sleep led to an immediate increase in beta-amyloid, a protein in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a small, new study by researchers at NIH. In Alzheimer’s disease, beta-amyloid proteins clump together to form amyloid plaques, a hallmark of the disease.

While acute sleep deprivation is known to elevate brain beta-amyloid levels in mice, less is known about the impact of sleep deprivation on beta-amyloid accumulation in the human brain. The study is among the first to demonstrate that sleep may play an important role in human beta-amyloid clearance.

“This research provides new insight about the potentially harmful effects of a lack of sleep on the brain and has implications for better characterizing the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. George Koob, director of NIAAA, which funded the study. The work was reported Mar. 29 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Beta-amyloid is a metabolic waste product present in the fluid between brain cells. In Alzheimer’s disease, beta-amyloid clumps together to form amyloid plaques, negatively impacting communication between neurons.

In Alzheimer’s disease, beta-amyloid is estimated to increase about 43 percent in affected individuals relative to healthy older adults. It is unknown whether the increase in beta-amyloid in the study participants would subside after a night of rest.

The researchers also found that study participants with larger increases in beta-amyloid reported worse mood after sleep deprivation.

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

Published 25 times each year, it comes out on payday Fridays.

Associate Editor: Carla Garnett
Carla.Garnett@nih.gov

Staff Writers:

Eric Bock
Eric.Bock@nih.gov

Dana Talesnik
Dana.Talesnik@nih.gov

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