Researchers at the University of California (several campuses), and University of Sao Paulo recently found that if you need to nap more than usual, and if your nap time is getting longer than it used to be, it might be an early warning sign that you could develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Even if they’ve had a full night’s sleep, many people with Alzheimer’s will sleep a lot during the day. Now, based on this new finding, researchers are considering that examining daytime napping might help predict the future onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers were concerned about what comes first: sleep changes that play role in the development of Alzheimer’s or if changes in a person’s sleep pattern is indicative of the beginning of Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Lea Grinberg, senior author of the findings, which appear in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, explains that her team found evidence that an entire network of neurons that keeps us awake is wiped out by the accumulation of tau proteins which form tangles that disrupt communication between brain cells.
The researchers studied postmortem brain tissue of 13 deceased Alzheimer’s patients who had donated their brain to research and compared them to others without the disease. They found that in the Alzheimer’s brains the three areas of the brain that keep us awake (the locus coeruleus, the lateral hypothalamic area, and the tuberomammillary nucleus) had lost 75% of their neurons.
Researchers found “considerable amounts of tau inclusions” in the awakening areas of the brain, the study said.
Tau is a protein whose normal function is to stabilize a particular part of the neuron in all species. In the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s, tau acts abnormally and destabilizes the neuron. The build-up of tau protein is one of the main culprits of Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers said that it’s unclear how long it takes to notice memory loss after sleep pattern changes occur.
Sadly, the study’s lead author Jun Oh said in an article by Maria Cohut published in Medical News August 18, 2019, said that “It’s remarkable because it’s not just a single brain nucleus that’s degenerating, but the whole wakefulness-promoting network. Crucially, this means that the brain has no way to compensate because all of these functionally related cell types are being destroyed at the same time.”
As a result of this study and one in the past, she said, they have received funding to keep looking into changes in sleep patterns before memory loss begins.
The NIH and Rainwater Charitable Foundation are investing $1.4 million per year to this research group to continue their research into other areas of the brain responsible for promoting sleep and the areas that regulate circadian rhythm, as well as sleep pattern changes that occur before memory loss begins.
Until we know more, if napping is a normal part of your routine, you don’t have to worry about taking a mid-day or mid-morning siesta. But if your pattern has changed, it might be a good idea to make an appointment with your physician to discuss your sleep habits and to rule out other medical conditions.
In the meantime, make sure your sleep hygiene is optimal. Click here for 16 ways to sleep better.
Good night, sleep tight.
Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Boulder Book Store, Tattered Cover Book Store, Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.