Researcher studying sleep issues in the elderly believe that feeling sleepy during the day could indicate that dangerous plaque is forming on brain cells, which is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists think that one of the benefits of sleep is the washing away of a protein called beta-amyloid, the very same protein that accumulates in the brain of Alzheimer’s victims. Lack of sleep, or poor sleep, it is thought, could have the affect of allowing beta-amyloids to build up, enhancing the pathway to Alzheimer’s.

“Elderly individuals with excessive daytime sleepiness may be more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease-related changes,” said one of the authors of the new study.

The scientist pointed out, however, that the study is only observational and does not prove that bad sleep causes increased presence of beta-amyloid. Yet, she also said that the link is quite strong between sleep and beta-amyloid build-up, but it is just not yet clear what that link is. They are also not sure exactly how poor sleep must be to allow dangerous levels of beta-amyloid to accumulate.

The researcher added that beta-amyloid build-up is a sign of Alzheimer’s, but it does not mean that the person will definitely develop Alzheimer’s. The protein build-up could be a sign of other aging processes.

“Sleep has been proposed to be important for clearance of brain amyloid,” the researcher said. “This study affirms that disrupted sleep may be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease via increased amyloid.”

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