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Published By Beth Lueders on January 26, 2016

Losing sleep over losing sleep? According to a study from the University of California, Berkeley, not catching enough zzzzs could speed the onset of memory issues and Alzheimer’s disease.

The study notes that regular restorative sleep helps wash away toxic proteins called beta-amyloid that build up in the brain. Beta-amyloid attacks the brain’s long-term memory storage and is a main culprit behind Alzheimer’s disease. However, adequate shut-eye may prevent these harmful beta-amyloid proteins from clumping and then damaging nerve cells.

The study followed 26 adults, ages 65 to 81, who were not diagnosed with dementia or sleep, neurodegenerative or psychiatric disorders. Each subject received a brain scan to measure any accumulation of beta-amyloid and was asked to memorize 120 word pairings. After eight hours of sleep, the participants attempted to recall the word pairings while undergoing an MRI.

Those individuals with the highest levels of beta-amyloid struggled the most with sleep and recalling the words from the day before. Some of the participants failed to remember more than half of the word pairings.

Researchers had discovered previously that beta-amyloid deposited in the brain leads to a breakdown in the communication pathways, killing crucial nerve cells. In the first study of its kind, the UC Berkeley neuroscience team found that lack of sleep may increase this nerve damage.

Earlier studies on sleep-deprived mice showed more tangles in their brains, resulting in impairment of cognitive function and forming new memories. The same is now believed true of humans who need to catch more winks.

As Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are expected to rise with the upsurge in America’s baby boomers, the good news is that guarding your rest may just keep your memory sharp. And that’s something you can sleep on.

How does sleep deprivation affect your own thinking and memory?

An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.


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