New research from the University of California, Berkeley suggests that a good night’s sleep can act as a buffer against memory loss for elderly people carrying a heavy load of Alzheimer’s disease.
There has been some evidence linking sleep disruption to increased rates of beta-amyloid protein accumulation in the brain. Experts say that a significant improvement that could help alleviate some of dementia’s most devastating outcomes is the discovery by a team at UC Berkeley that greater amounts of deep, slow-wave sleep can act as a protective factor against memory decline in those with existing high amounts of Alzheimer’s disease pathology.
The study, which was published online by the journal BMC Medicine, is the most recent in a long line of investigations into treating and preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
Sixty-two seniors were taken from the Berkeley Aging Cohort Study to participate in the study. Adults who had not been diagnosed with dementia slept in a laboratory while their brain waves were recorded using an electroencephalography (EEG) machine.
The amount of beta-amyloid deposits in the participants’ brains was also assessed with a positron emission tomography (PET) scan. Only some of the people in the study had significant amyloid deposits.
Participants completed a memory task involving name-to-face association after getting some shut-eye.
Deep sleepers with high levels of beta-amyloid deposits in the brain outperformed those with the same amount of deposits but poorer sleep quality on a memory test. Only those individuals who had amyloid deposits received this compensatory boost. Since there is no need for resilience factors in otherwise intact cognitive function, deep sleep did not have any additional supportive effect on memory in the group without pathology.