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Sleepy older adults accumulate amyloid pathology more quickly

By March 13, 2018Commentary, In the News

Contributed by Bryce Mander, PhD

As reported in CNN, a new study published in JAMA Neurology indicates that healthy older adults who are excessively sleepy during the day show a greater buildup over time of β-amyloid plaques, a defining brain feature of Alzheimer’s disease, compared to those who are not excessively sleepy.

As we describe in our editorial on this article, this study is an important advance in our understanding of how sleep disturbance in general can result in increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Many studies over the past few years, including our own, have linked poor sleep to increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, and many other studies have linked poor sleep to the amount of Alzheimer’s disease markers in the brain. Until now, however, it was not known if symptoms of poor sleep result in long-term increases in Alzheimer’s disease pathology over the course of years. This finding is critical, because Alzheimer’s disease pathology can build up in the brain for a decade before any memory problems and other symptoms begin, and identifying any factors promoting this process may reveal novel therapeutic opportunities to decrease Alzheimer’s disease risk.

While illuminating a relationship between excessive daytime sleepiness and brain amyloid plaques is helpful, the underlying cause remains unknown. Multiple sleep disorders, including sleep apnea and insomnia, can result in excessive daytime sleepiness, as can poor sleep quality in general. A critical next step will be to determine what specific features of sleep are causing both excessive daytime sleepiness and greater Alzheimer’s disease risk. This is now an important research question for multiple researchers at UCI MIND, and is a core research mission for the new UCI Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience (SCN) center sponsored by the UCI Office of Research.

Individuals interested in participating in our upcoming studies of sleep and Alzheimer’s disease can enroll in the UCI Consent to Contact (C2C) registry. It is only through our partnership with volunteers in the community that we can continue to pave the way for new treatments and cures for those suffering from debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

About the Author
Bryce Mander, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry & Human Behavior for the School of Medicine at UC Irvine.

His research interests include Sleep, Sleep Deprivation, Sleep Disorders, Cognitive Aging, Alzheimer’s Disease, Memory, and Neurodegeneration.