The Connection Between Alzheimer’s and Sleep

Most people know they need sleep – seven to eight hours of it. Yet, in a busy world that glorifies sleep deprivation, it can be hard to find the time. However, sleep does more than rest us, it prevents Alzheimer’s Disease says recent research.

round blue alarm clock with bell on white table near snake plant
Photo by Enikő Tóth on

Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the build-up of beta-amyloid protein, which accumulates in the brain ultimately killing brain cells. Beta-amyloid is an extremely sticky substance that clumps around nerve cells eventually forming lethal plaques that stop communication between neurons. Ultimately, when neurons cannot communicate they die.

The purpose of beta-amyloid in a healthy brain is still understood, however, it is currently believed to be the waste produced by brain function.

Photo of beta-amyloid. source

In a functioning brain, excess beta-amyloid proteins are swept out by the glymphatic system. During sleep, the glymphatic system is the strongest and more excess beta-amyloid is flushed out.

The majority of amyloid cleaning occurs during slow-wave sleep. Slow-wave sleep is considered one of the deepest stages of sleep, typically stage three of four. During this period, the brain and body finally relax. This is where the real “resting” occurs and when memories are stored and remembered.

So, if sleep is inadequate, it means the brain does not have time to clean out amyloid protein build up which could lead to Alzheimer’s.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found a five percent increase of beta-amyloid in the brain of humans after not sleeping for 31 hours straight. The build-up was found primarily in the thalamus and hippocampus, areas of the brain typically first targetted by Alzheimer’s Disease.

Photo showing accumulation of beta-amyloid in the brain of test subjects. Souce

Unfourtantly, as beta-amyloid begins to build up, Alzheimer’s patients can experience sleep difficulties and insomnia, which can aggravate the pre-existing problem.

In some cases, individuals will reach for sleep pills or medication for a quick fix. However, this may not be as effective as it seems. While sleep medicine can help one fall asleep faster, the quality of sleep according to recent research is not as good. While the relationship between sleeping pills and Alzheimer’s is still being understood, a study from BMJ found a correlation between people who take people who Benzodiazepine, a sleeping drug, and Alzheimer’s Disease. However, there is a flaw in this study. Maybe Alzheimer’s occurs first causing sleep difficulties, and then the individuals take the drug which is why the correlation exists.

Overall, more research is needed to understand the relationship between sleep and cognitive decline. However, the science clearly shows that sleep is imperative to human function, well being, and memory. So, if it that extra T.V episode or an hour of sleep – what would you choose?

photo of person holding alarm clock
Photo by Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush on



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