Monday, January 13, 2014

More Evidence Sleep Linked to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's

It's time to revisit a popular topic: sleep. Specifically what happens to our brains when we don't get enough of it. We've talked about links to productivity, stress, depression and other ailments.

But Sunday's New York Times had a piece that shows a stronger link to Alzheimer's. You see, when you sleep your brain performs a service similar to what your lymphatic system does to other organs -- it cleans out the waste that builds up from exercise and other strenuous work. But the lymphatic system doesn't help the brain, so nature had created other ways to help flush the build up of "litter" that comes from how we use our brain during the day. A major component is getting ample sleep.

From the article:
MODERN society is increasingly ill equipped to provide our brains with the requisite cleaning time. The figures are stark. Some 80 percent of working adults suffer to some extent from sleep deprivation. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should sleep seven to nine hours. On average, we’re getting one to two hours less sleep a night than we did 50 to 100 years ago and 38 minutes less on weeknights than we did as little as 10 years ago. Between 50 and 70 million people in the United States suffer from some form of chronic sleep disorder. When our sleep is disturbed, whatever the cause, our cleaning system breaks down. At the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology, Sigrid Veasey has been focusing on precisely how restless nights disturb the brain’s normal metabolism. What happens to our cognitive function when the trash piles up?

At the extreme end, the result could be the acceleration of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. While we don’t know whether sleep loss causes the disease, or the disease itself leads to sleep loss — what Dr. Veasey calls a “classic chicken-and-egg” problem — we do know that the two are closely connected. Along with the sleep disturbances that characterize neurodegenerative diseases, there is a buildup of the types of proteins that the glymphatic system normally clears out during regular sleep, like beta-amyloids and tau, both associated with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

“To me,” says Dr. Veasey, “that’s the most compelling part of the Nedergaard research. That the clearance for these is dramatically reduced from prolonged wakefulness.” If we don’t sleep well, we may be allowing the very things that cause neural degeneration to pile up unchecked.

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