New Research Suggests Sleep Is Good Medicine for the Aging Brain

Scientists explain how sleeping better can prevent Alzheimer’s.
By Boyce Buchanan

Sleep is good medicine.

As UC Berkeley neuroscientist Matthew Walker wrote in his 2017 book, Why We Sleep, “There does not seem to be one major organ within the body, or process within the brain, that isn’t optimally enhanced by sleep (and detrimentally impaired when we don’t get enough). That we receive such a bounty of health benefits each night should not be surprising.”

Still, you might be surprised to learn that, according to the findings of a Berkeley-led study published in the journal Current Biology in September, deep slumber can even help protect the brain against Alzheimer’s disease.

The research, led by Walker and recent Ph.D. graduate Joseph Winer, focused on the correlation between sleep quality and the buildup of beta-amyloid plaques, an early sign of Alzheimer’s, that typically begins forming 10 to 15 years before memory loss manifests.

Researchers conducted a sleep study on participants to track how each person slept, then measured the buildup of beta-amyloid in their brains over the next few years using PET scans. They found that those with fragmented sleep patterns were more likely to accumulate beta-amyloid in the brain.

It should be noted that none of the participants developed the disease during the study, and Winer stresses that not everyone with amyloid plaques will inevitably develop Alzheimer’s later in life.

Nevertheless, the upshot is clear. To stay healthy, improve your sleep. “I think it’s important,” says Winer, “for people to think about their sleep health in the same way they think about diet and exercise.”

From the Winter 2020 issue of California.
Image source: Pexels
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