Saturday 1 July 2017

Lack of Sleep and Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting 62 percent of the 850,000* people diagnosed with dementia in the UK.

For the individual and their family and friends, its effect is undeniably devastating but it also costs the UK economy over £30,000* annually, for every person living with dementia.

Here Dave Gibson, founder of, discusses the links between Alzheimer’s disease and sleep.

Whilst our brain only accounts for 2% of body weight, it uses up 25% of the body’s energy and therefore produces a lot of waste material. Thus, what might be surprising is that the brain does not have any lymphatic vessels that make up our body’s natural drainage system.  Packed with nerve cells and blood vessels, there is not enough room to fit in the lymphatic pipework. Instead, the brain cleverly uses the flow of Cerebral Spinal fluid that bathes the nerves to remove toxins. It is whilst we sleep that the circulation and flow of this fluid increases, removing the toxins from the brain, and pushing them into the circulatory system away from the brain.

In fact, the brain’s drainage system is ten times more active in the night than the day. Therefore, scientists are becoming increasingly more confident that one of the roles of sleep is to dispose of metabolic waste that accumulates whilst we are awake.

One of the toxins produced in the brain is Beta-Amyloid; a protein, which when allowed to accumulate can produce plaques that aggregate around the brain’s nerve cells. It is these Beta-Amyloid plaques that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

It is not clear whether build-up of Amyloid protein is due to over production, a lack of clearance or both. However, recent research shows that beta-amyloid concentration is

reduced during the periods when we are asleep and is highest when we are awake. This suggests that our sleep/wake cycle affects changes in beta-amyloid concentrations.

It is well known that those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease have higher levels of fragmented sleep than those who don’t have the disorder. However, the core question is, given evidence of sleep being associated with toxin elimination, is the link both ways? Does poor sleep lead to Alzheimer’s disease? Also, within the pathology of cause and effect, is it the plaques in Alzheimer’s disease that disrupt sleep and lack of sleep that is promoting the development of Alzheimer's plaques?

More research is needed before we can say that poor sleep influences AD pathology. However, it is not inconceivable that sleep duration and quality could be modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, early intervention to improve sleep and maintain healthy sleep in those exhibiting early signs of AD may help prevent or slow its development.

What should you be doing?
  • The first thing to focus on is to get the right amount of sleep, establish a healthy sleep routine and a good sleep habit.
  • If you can’t get your full amount of sleep in one go, then sleep in 2 chunks of 4-ish hours and also take naps in the day if you need to (as long as they are not the cause of you finding it hard to get off to sleep).
  • A healthy lifestyle including regular exercise, eating a Mediterranean diet and fish are other things that can help reduce the risk of Dementia in general.

Dave has been practicing as a Naturopath and Osteopath for over 15 years and he is also a qualified hypnotherapist, providing naturopathic advice across a wide range of conditions to promote good sleep patterns and quality sleep. 

Dave is the founder of

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