Lack of deep sleep could leave the brain susceptible to Alzheimer's disease, and scientists at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland want to find out more.
Researchers said that the brain appears to clean out toxins linked to Alzheimer's during sleep and that process lessens with the lack of sleep, NPR reported
. Without deep sleep, those toxins can eventually build up to damage the brain.
"Changes in sleep habits may actually be setting the stage" for dementia, Jeffrey Iliff, a brain scientist at Oregon Health & Science University, told NPR.
The radio network stated that sleep disorders are common among people suffering from Alzheimer's and a suspected link between the disease and lack of sleep has been suspected for decades.
The Oregon Health & Science researchers are planning on launching a study designed to better understand how the brain clears those toxins, according to Popular Science
. The research team will used a super-sensitive MRI machine to monitor sleeping subjects.
The study could shed more light on the relationship between sleep and Alzheimer's disease even though the bigger challenge may lie in getting subjects to sleep in a confined MRI machine.
"It's very clear that sleep disruption is an underappreciated factor," Dr. Matthew Walker of the University of California, Berkeley, told The Associated Press in July
. He presented data linking amyloid levels with people's sleep and memory performance at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference over the summer.
"It's a new player on the scene that increases risk of Alzheimer's disease," he added.
The focus on the connection between sleep and Alzheimer's comes as the number of people suffering from the disease — currently more than 5 million — is expected to double by 2050, according to the AP.
Scientists are currently examining drugs used by people at high risk of Alzheimer's in hopes to finding preventive treatments.
"There are lots of risk factors we might be able to change. Sleep is one," Alzheimer's Association chief science officer Maria Carrillo told the AP. "Sleep is critical as we age."
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