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There’s still a lot we don’t know about Alzheimer’s disease, but the link between sleep deprivation and disease progression is one researchers are eagerly investigating.

In the year In a study published in 2023, scientists found that using sleeping pills to get some shut-eye each night reduced the concentration of toxic proteins in the brain’s cleansing fluid.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found people who took it SuvorexantA common treatment for insomnia is a small reduction in two proteins for two nights in a sleep clinic. Amyloid-beta And YesAccumulated in Alzheimer’s disease.

Although the study was short and included only a few healthy adults, the study is an interesting demonstration of the relationship between sleep and molecular markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

Sleep disturbances can be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s before other symptoms such as memory loss and cognitive decline. And by the time the first symptoms appear, abnormal amyloid-beta levels are rising, forming clumps called plaques that clog brain cells.

Researchers think that promoting sleep may be one way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, by allowing the sleeping brain to rid itself of residual proteins and other waste from the day.

While sleeping pills can help in this regard, “it’s too late to interpret this as a reason to start taking suvorexant every night for people who are worried about developing Alzheimer’s disease.” he said. Neurologist Brendan Lucey of the University of Washington Sleep Medicine Center led the research.

The study was conducted for only two nights and included 38 middle-aged participants who did not show any cognitive problems and did not have any sleep problems.

Long-term use of sleeping pills is also not a good solution for those who are sleep-deprived because it is very easy to become dependent on them.

Sleeping pills can cause people to go into deep sleep rather than deeper stages of sleep. This can be a problem Early research by Lucy and colleagues It found a link between less fine-grained, slow-wave sleep and higher levels of tau tangles and amyloid-beta protein.

In a recent study, Lucey and colleagues wanted to see if improving sleep with sleeping pills could reduce the levels of tau and amyloid-beta in the cerebrospinal fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord. Even just as previous research shows A night of disturbed sleep May increase amyloid-beta levels.

A group of volunteers aged 45 to 65 took one of two doses of Suvorexant or a placebo pill, one hour after researchers tapped a small sample of their cerebrospinal fluid.

The researchers continued to collect samples every two hours for 36 hours while the participants slept and the next day and night to measure how protein levels changed.

There was no difference in sleep between the groups, but the level of amyloid-beta was reduced by between 10 and 20 percent in the suvorectant compared to the placebo.

High doses of suvorexant also transiently reduced hyperphosphorylated tau, a modified tau protein associated with the formation of tau tangles and cell death.

However, this effect was only seen in some types of tau, and the tau aggregates reappeared within 24 hours of taking the sleeping pill.

“If you can reduce tau phosphorylation, maybe less degeneration and less death of neurons.” he said. Lucy I still hope Prospective studies in adults Trying sleeping pills for months can measure lasting effects on protein levels (when the downsides of sleeping pills are seen).

Of course, this all depends on our understanding of what causes Alzheimer’s disease.

The underlying theory is that abnormal protein clumps drive Alzheimer’s pathology, and after decades of research aimed at reducing amyloid levels, any effective drug or therapy that could prevent or slow the disease has recently come under intense scrutiny. This has led researchers to rethink how Alzheimer’s disease develops.

In other words, sleeping pills may help some people see a certain amount of time, but using them as preventive therapy to prevent Alzheimer’s disease is still a hazy prospect that hinges on a shaky hypothesis of Alzheimer’s pathology.

That said, there is increasing evidence linking sleep disorders to Alzheimer’s disease, for which there is no treatment. Lucy says improving sleep hygiene and seeking treatment for sleep disorders such as sleep apnea are both sensible ways to improve overall mental health at any age.

“Ultimately, I hope we can use the link between sleep and Alzheimer’s to develop drugs to prevent cognitive decline.” he said. “We’re not there yet,” Lucy admits.

The study was published in Neurology News.

An earlier version of this article was published in April 2023.