A study published in JAMA Neurology reports that participants with evidence of preclinical Alzheimer’s experienced worse sleep efficiency than those with no evidence of potential Alzheimer’s. One hundred forty five people between ages 45 and 75 took part in the study conducted by researchers at the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, Washington University School of Medicine.
While none of the study participants had any cognitive concerns, once their spinal fluid was analyzed test results showed that about one-third of them were very likely to have Alzheimer’s-linked Amyloid plaques in the brain. Amyloid plaques are generally considered to be a sign of preclinical Alzheimer’s.
Study participants were asked to keep a sleep diary which tracked when they went to bed, when they awoke and when they took naps. They also wore wrist sensors that could detect movement as well as determine whether they were awake or asleep during the movement. The monitoring took place over a two week period of time.
The results of the study showed that those with evidence of preclinical Alzheimer’s had worse sleep efficiency than those with no evidence of possibly impending Alzheimer’s. The participants with evidence of preclinical Alzheimer’s also spent less time asleep, even though the two groups spent the same amount of time in bed. The researchers noted that the least efficient sleepers in the study had five times the risk of having preclinical Alzheimer’s as those who had efficient sleep patterns.
Caregivers and sleep
I am acquainted with many people who have trouble sleeping because of physical pain, mental and emotional stress, sleep apnea and other issues. Many of these health problems can be improved with proper medical care. However, among many of my friends and most of my readers, one of the most significant issues interfering with quality sleep is that they are family caregivers.
It’s well documented that poor sleep is bad for our health and can be at the root of heart health issues, weight gain and increased sensitivity to stress. With newer studies showing that our Alzheimer’s risk is increased by recurrent poor quality sleep, logic would tell us that getting help with our caregiving obligations, whether paid or volunteer, may help with sleep and mitigate against AD, as well.
Alzheimer’s risk aside, for our general health it is important that we do what we can to obtain quality sleep. Lifestyle changes, including natural relaxation techniques such as exercise at the appropriate time of day and dietary changes, may help us do what should come naturally - have a restful night and awake with energy. Caregivers may have more challenges than the average non-caregiver, but for their own welfare as well as that of their care receivers, caregivers need to work toward getting a good night’s sleep.
HuffingtonPost Healthy Living. (2013, March 14) Disrupted Sleep Could be Early Sign of Alzheimer’s. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/14/disrupted-sleep-alzheimers-disease-risk-plaques-efficiency_n_2854805.html
Washington University School of Medicine. (2013) Eurekalert. Sleep loss precedes Alzheimer’s symptoms. Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-03/wuso-slp030813.php
MedlinePlus. (2013, May 20). Sleep Apnea in Seniors Tied to Alzheimer’s in Study. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_136994.htmlHarvard Medical School (2006) Importance of Sleep : Six reasons not to scrimp on sleep. Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/importance_of_sleep_and_health
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.