According to the study which was published in the Science Journal, poor sleep increases Tau levels in the brain and allows Tau tangles to spread, a primary marker of Alzheimer’s disease.
Tau, a protein usually found in the brain of all humans, clumps into tangles that injure nearby tissue and presage cognitive decline under certain conditions.
“Factors such as sleep might affect how fast the disease spreads through the brain,” David Holtzman, senior author and neurology professor at Washington University School of Medicine said.
Previous studies have found higher Tau levels in older people who sleep poorly but it wasn’t clear if lack of sleep was directly responsible.
Measuring tau levels in mice and humans during both normal and disrupted night sleep, the researchers found that a sleepless night caused tau levels to rise by about 50%.
Tau was found to be routinely released during waking hours by the normal business of thinking and doing and then cleared during sleep, where prolonged sleeplessness causes a hike.
The study also showed that sleep disruption rapidly spreads Tau while it also causes the release of synuclein protein which leads to Parkinson’s disease.
“Getting a good night’s sleep is something we should all try to do,” Holtzman said.
Although it is still unknown if getting more sleep protects one against Alzheimer’s, Holtzman agreed that it might help to slow down the process if it has already begun.