Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting 46.8m people worldwide.

Treatment for the disease is purely symptomatic, owing to a lack of understanding of its causes, but research from Washington University, published earlier this month, has found a link between getting a good night’s sleep and a reduction in Alzheimer’s associated proteins.

Blocking up the brain

Alzheimer’s is known for its amyloid plaques and tau tangles, proteins which form in the brain, and together can block neuronal activity and cause inflammation.

This neuronal degradation leads to the devastating symptoms of Alzheimer’s — which include memory loss, mood swings, and problems with language.

The power of sleep

Work by neurologists in the US has found that the quality of sleep, rather than the quantity of sleep, is responsible for the changing protein levels.

Deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep, is important in preventing the formation of these proteins and is associated with lower levels of neuronal activity, meaning fewer proteins are released into the brain and they are less likely to cluster together.

One night of poor-quality sleep was enough to raise the levels of these proteins in volunteers, while chronic poor sleep over a number of days increased them more.

Prevention, not cure

The results are focused more on the prevention of Alzheimer’s, rather than a cure.

By better understanding the early stages of Alzheimer’s, more steps can be put in place to target the populations most at risk of disease development, such as those with sleep disorders.