Poor Sleep Linked To Alzheimer’s Disease, Cognitive Decline

By Amir Khan on July 17, 2012 12:27 PM EDT

Sleeping
Poor sleep patterns may do more than just make you cranky, according to new research, presented at the annual Alzheimer's Association meeting in Chicago. Researchers found that both too little sleep and too much is linked to cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease. (Photo: Reuters / Luke Macgregor)

Poor sleep patterns may do more than just make you cranky, according to new research, presented at the annual Alzheimer's Association meeting in Chicago. Researchers found that both too little sleep and too much is linked to cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease.

"Whether sleep changes, such as sleep apnea or disturbances, are signs of a decline to come or the cause of decline is something we don't know, but these four studies . . . shed further light that this is an area we need to look into more," Heather Snyder, senior associate director of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer's Association in Chicago, who was not involved in the studies, told HealthDay.

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Too much and too little sleep aged the brain in a way that was equal to two-years. Sleeping less than five hours per day or more than nine hours had lower mental functions than those who slept seven hours per day, researchers said.

"We went in with the hypothesis that extreme changes in sleep duration might be worse for cognitive function because they disrupt the circadian rhythm, so these results line up nicely," Elizabeth Devore, study author and an associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, told HealthDay. "I think this gives us data to think about sleep- and circadian-based interventions being a route to address cognitive function."

 Circadian rhythm is the term for the physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle.

Sleep deprivation not only causes afternoon crashes of sleepiness, it also impacts long-term health and increases risk for diabetes and heart disease, experts said. Everyday life makes it difficult to get a good night's sleep, experts say.

"The modern condition of excess work, excess pressure, no sleep -- all this disruption -- we can't adapt well to it metabolically," Dr. Orfeu Buxton, CDC researcher and sleep researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital, told WebMD. "This is a maladaptive response to modern life."

However, just because many workers do not meet the National Sleep Foundation's recommendations doesn't mean they are sleep deprived, Dr. Michael Breus, author of the book "Beauty Sleep," told CNN. Sleep researchers put too much emphasis on the amount of sleep instead of focusing on what's really important.

"Oftentimes, we only think of sleep in terms of minutes -- but that's really the quantity of sleep. In fact, there's a quality of sleep," he said. "If you have sleep apnea and you stop breathing through the night, you might feel really tired in the morning even though you've gotten eight hours. Those eight hours were horrible, light, crappy sleep."

In order to ensure a better quality of sleep, people should try to go to bed at the same time every day, create a relaxing bedroom environment, avoid watching television or eating a large meal right before bed and turn off their cell phone, according to WebMD.

"Any degree of sleep deprivation impairs performance or mood," Dr. Mark Mahowald, director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center, told WebMD. "Our society has got to learn to respect sleep as biologically imperative. Getting a good night's sleep is as important as exercising regularly and eating a good diet."

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