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Study Indicates Sleep Problems May Be Early Sign Of Alzheimer’s

A new animal study out of the Washington University School of Medicine indicates that disruptions in an individual’s sleep-wake cycle may be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists measured amyloid plaques, one of the defining brain abnormalities associated with Alzheimer’s disease, in mice that were genetically altered to develop these Alzheimer’s plaques as they age. Researchers found that when the first indicators of these plaques began to appear, mice began experiencing a change in their sleep patterns. Mice generally sleep 40 minutes during every hour of daylight, but when the plaques began forming the mice averaged just 30 minutes of sleep during every hour of daylight. In aging mice that did not develop Alzheimer’s plaques, no change in sleep patterns was observed.

“If sleep abnormalities begin this early in the course of human Alzheimer’s disease, those changes could provide us with an easily detectable sign of pathology,” says senior author David M. Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of Washington University’s Department of Neurology. “As we start to treat Alzheimer’s patients before the onset of dementia, the presence or absence of sleep problems may be a rapid indicator of whether the new treatments are succeeding.”

More research will be needed to establish a cause and effect relationship or prove this correlation in humans, but previous studies have found that amyloid levels and plaques behave similarly in both humans and mice.

Read more about the Alzheimer's disease study, including an audio overview of the findings.

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