'Sleep fragmentation' or broken and disrupted sleep, as occurs in people suffering from sleep disordered breathing conditions (such as sleep apnoea) has been clearly linked to an increased likelihood of Alzheimer's disease.
The findings are the result of a study done by the Rush Memory and Aging Project which presented the results of the study at the recent American Neurological Association Annual Meeting in Boston.
The lead researcher said the findings are consistent with animal studies that showed long-term disruption in sleep tends to lead to the more rapid development of Alzheimer's pathology.
Dr Andrew Lim, a neurologist from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, Canada, studied 734 elderly adults (mean age, 81.6) over 10 days.
During a follow-up around 3 years later, 96 people had developed Alzheimer's disease. This correlated with the research, which found that being above the usual level of sleep disturbance was associated with a 21% to 26% increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.
"One possible explanation is that individuals who are sleep-fragmented at baseline already have something wrong with them. (Sleep fragmentation) may be a marker of underlying pathology already," said Dr Lim.
"But of course the more exciting possibility, and the possibility that's raised by the animal work as well, is that sleep fragmentation or sleep disruption itself is harmful in terms of the underlying pathological processes of Alzheimer's disease, or the converse, that getting a good night's sleep may in fact be protective," he said.
This is extremely significant news for people suffering from sleep disordered breathing conditions, such as sleep apnoea. The repeated arousals which are associated with sleep apnoea are obvious causes of sleep fragmentation and, as Dr Lim suggests, getting treatment for the sleep disorder could be protective.
Dr Kristine Yaffe, a psychiatrist and director of the University of California, San Francisco Dementia Epidemiology Research Group, said basic science has suggested extended loss of sleep may lead to greater build-up of amyloid beta.
"We've had an accumulating body of evidence both from basic science and clinical studies like this that are showing us that there clearly is a connection between the sleep quality and prospective risk of developing dementia," said Dr Yaffe, who wasn't involved in the new study. "There's lots of converging data."
"This raises the question for anybody who takes care of older individuals of asking about sleep, and identifying sleep problems and treating them, with the idea that potentially it may be a risk factor for developing Alzheimer's disease," Dr Lim said.
If you suspect you have some form of sleep disorder, or if you know someone who does, it is vitally important the disorder is treated as soon as possible. Proper, professional treatment begins with a polysomnogram (diagnostic sleep study). New technology means this can now be done in the comfort, privacy and convenience of your own home, rather than in a hospital based sleep lab environment.
If you'd like to arrange a sleep study, or if you simply want more information about sleep disorders and treatment options, please feel free to call us on 1300 246 637 or click on the button below to make an online enquiry. Either way, we're here to help so contact us soon.