New blood markers that reflect risk for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are uncovering important modifiable risk factors to be aware of to dramatically reduce the likelihood of ever suffering from this cruel disease. The latest study shows that just one night of sleep disruption is associated with an increase in these blood markers.
The primary brain lesions of AD are the result of deposits of a substance known as beta-amyloid. Although the immune cells in the brain normally remove beta-amyloid and plaque, research is beginning to characterize a chronic and excessive inflammatory reaction to amyloid proteins in the brain in susceptible individuals that can promote AD. Blood measurements of a protein called tau that is formed from toxic beta-amyloid as well as a protein that acts as the internal skeleton of brain cells known neurofilament light chain (NfL) protein can predict neurodegeneration years before clinical symptoms appear in AD. When brain cells are damaged, tau and NfL are released into cerebrospinal fluid and then the blood.
One of the key underlying causes of poor sleep is faulty blood sugar control. Basically, most people with sleep maintenance issues are on the “blood sugar rollercoaster.” When blood sugar levels drop rapidly during the night it causes the release of cortisol and adrenaline leading to arousal and difficulty in getting back to sleep. Insulin resistance is the key factor in causing the blood sugar rollercoaster and is also a key risk factor for AD. In fact, AD is often popularly referred to as “diabetes of the brain” and even “type 3 diabetes.”
Obviously, taking a sleeping pill does not address the underlying cause of the poor sleep quality and looks like it makes the situation even worse. Instead the key focus should be on improving insulin sensitivity and stabilizing blood sugar levels.
Brooks M. Acute Sleep Loss Increases Blood Levels of Alzheimer’s Biomarker. Medscape, June 11, 2019.