Sleep When You’re Dead? 

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A study published this month on deep sleep brain waves has highlighted a possible mechanism by which sleep deprivation may induce Alzheimer’s.  Photo by twinsfisch on Unsplash.

A study published this month on deep sleep brain waves has highlighted a possible mechanism by which sleep deprivation may induce Alzheimer’s. Photo by twinsfisch on Unsplash.

Sleep: It is something that is too commonly taken for granted. College students often do not prioritize sleep, willing to sacrifice those restful hours to make time for almost anything else. In fact, many students even pride themselves on subsisting off of minimal sleep and maximal caffeine to capitalize on time for their academic and social lives. However, cutting back on sleep does not just lead to the obvious symptoms of lethargy and inattention that a cup of coffee can sometimes appear to remedy. New findings point to the essential role of sleep in preventing such neurodegenerative diseases as Alzheimer’s. 

As neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s become more prevalent in our society, increasing research is being conducted to uncover the processes through which such diseases occur. Much remains to be uncovered regarding the etiology of Alzheimer’s, but a better understanding of its root causes could provide the information needed to develop a cure.  

One line of inquiry has involved examining the connection between Alzheimer’s and sleep deprivation. While insomnia is one of the established symptoms of Alzheimer’s, it is becoming progressively more apparent that insufficient sleep may also actually lead to the disease. In one particular analysis, participants who lost a singular night of sleep experienced significantly higher levels of beta-amyloid, a protein that accumulates into toxic plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Conversely, a buildup of beta-amyloid appears to limit one’s ability to sleep, further worsening sleeplessness-related complications. 

Even with this evidence, the relationship between Alzheimer’s and lack of sleep remains largely unexplained. However, a study published this month on deep sleep brain waves has highlighted a possible mechanism by which sleep deprivation may induce Alzheimer’s.  

Our brains contain a liquid known as cerebrospinal fluid that flows to the spinal cord and functions as a protective cushion and waste removal system. Beta-amyloid has recently been identified as one such waste product cleared by cerebrospinal fluid. This new study investigated the possibility that brain waves can drive the flow of cerebrospinal fluid during sleep and thus clear harmful neurotoxins like beta-amyloid plaques.  


Cutting back on sleep has been linked to neurological diseased such as Alzheimer’s Disease.  Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash.

Cutting back on sleep has been linked to neurological diseased such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash.

While brain waves have been known to facilitate memory consolidation during sleep, they had previously never been studied in association with cerebrospinal fluid waves. Now, it appears as though slow brain waves observed during sleep stimulate cerebrospinal fluid waste clearance functions. Without sleep to trigger these brain waves, sleep deprivation could therefore result in the accumulation of beta-amyloid, leading to the development of Alzheimer’s. 

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of sleeping brains showed electrical signals propagating in waves across neurons, followed promptly by slow waves of cerebrospinal fluid. This discovery implies that brain waves function as a signal for cerebrospinal fluid to cycle through the brain, allowing for toxin removal. This conclusion is further supported by the fact that brain waves are significantly reduced in Alzheimer’s patients. Therefore, establishing a sufficient sleep schedule may be an effective prevention method to limit the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease. 

Mounting evidence indicates that impaired sleep may not only be a symptom, but also a cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Inadequate sleep seems to contribute to and perpetuate the onset of Alzheimer’s, creating a cycling reaction that aids in the rapid progression of the disease. If you find this news alarming, let it serve as a wake-up call (not literally, of course) to make sleep a priority in your daily routine. Sleep is such a vital aspect of life and has a multitude of benefits, both known and unknown. It would be unwise to dismiss the necessity of sleep in favor of other activities. At the risk of sounding far too morbid, if you plan to sleep when you are dead, that time might come sooner than you think. 

Thumbnail photo by Pixabay from Pexels.


Veronica Eskander is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at veronica.eskander@uconn.edu

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