Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Monday 18 January |
Saint of the Day: Bl. Maria Teresa Fasce
home iconLifestyle
line break icon

Sleep in Deep Peace: Study Suggests Avoiding Alzheimer's May Be Simpler Than We Think

Andrew Roberts CC

John Burger - published on 01/05/16

Oregon researchers following lead suggested by work with mice

Early January: the time right after the winter solstice when the sun’s later rising encourages some good sleeping in …

But soon we’re struggling to get back into work mode, following (perhaps) a few days off between Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

Now, there’s a study out suggesting that we may not be getting enough of that solid sleep and that people are developing Alzheimer’s disease as a result.

“Changes in sleep habits may actually be setting the stage” for dementia, Jeffrey Iliff, a brain scientist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, told NPR News.

The brain appears to clear out toxins linked to Alzheimer’s during sleep, Iliff explains. And at least among research animals that don’t get enough solid shut-eye, those toxins can build up and damage the brain.

Iliff and other scientists at OHSU are about to launch a study of people that should clarify the link between sleep problems and Alzheimer’s disease in humans, NPR said, noting that sleep disorders are very common among people with Alzheimer’s.

In 2013, Iliff was part of a team that discovered how a lack of sleep could be speeding the development of sticky amyloid plaques that flourish in the brains of sleep-deprived mice. A cleansing process known as the glymphatic system takes place in the brain during deep sleep: cerebrospinal fluid on the outside of the brain begins to recirculate back into and through the brain along the outsides of blood vessels, allowing the brain to clear out toxins.

Researchers will need to study the cleansing process as it occurs in people, and they won’t have to open subjects’ skulls to do so. OHSU has one of the world’s most powerful magnetic resonance imaging machines, so sensitive that it should be able to detect changes that indicate precisely when the glymphatic system gets switched on in a person’s brain, Bill Rooney, who directs the university’s Advanced Imaging Research Center, told NPR.

When humans enter deep sleep, and toxin removal begins, there should be a particular change in the signal coming from certain salt molecules. That would indicate that fluid has begun moving freely through the brain. In young, healthy brains, the signal should be “robust,” Rooney says, indicating that the toxin removal system is working well. In the brains of older people, and those who are likely to develop Alzheimer’s, the signal should be weaker.

If successful, the research may ultimately pave the way to new treatments.

“It could be anything from having people exercise more regularly, or new drugs,” Rooney said. “A lot of the sleep aids don’t particularly focus on driving people to deep sleep stages.”

There’s just one thing they’ll have to do first: figure out how to allow people to fall asleep in the noisy, cramped environment of an MRI machine.

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
DAD, HOW DO I?
Cerith Gardiner
Meet the dad who's teaching basic skills on Y...
LUXOR FILM FESTIVAL
Zoe Romanowsky
20-year-old filmmaker wins award for powerful...
DAD, HOW DO I?
Cerith Gardiner
Meet the dad who's teaching basic skills on Y...
SAINT RITA CASCIA
Bret Thoman, OFS
Traces of miracles remain at the birthplace o...
Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP
Reasons Catholics should read the Bible
POPE JOHN PAUL II
Philip Kosloski
St. John Paul II's formula for defeating evil...
Philip Kosloski
What is the Holy Cloak of St. Joseph?
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.