Extended Lack of Sleep May Trigger Alzheimer’s Pathology

Posted April 27, 2018

Recent Report From the National Institutes of Health

Sleep may play a critical role in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study, led by Dr. Ehsan Shokri-Kojori and Dr. Nora D. Volkow, both of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), and funded by the NIH, demonstrated that the loss of just one single night’s sleep can result in an increase of five percent of beta-amyloid in a person’s brain. Beta-amyloid is now widely regarded as an early precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

The study also suggested a vicious spiral. Lack of sleep can raise levels of beta-amyloid levels, and raised amyloid levels can, in turn, disrupt sleep.

This new evidence in humans confirms well-established findings from research in mice. “This is not a surprise to us at all,” said Cure Alzheimer’s CEO Tim Armour. “We’ve been involved in sleep research for many years, and have seen strong indications that both quantity and quality of sleep is connected to the development of Alzheimer’s.”

In 2009, a Cure Alzheimer’s-funded study in David Holtzman’s lab at Washington University in St. Louis found increased levels of beta-amyloid in sleep-deprived mice. In 2013, Holtzman’s lab found, additionally, that decreased sleep in mice can also lead to an increase in tau — another toxic contributor to Alzheimer’s. Finally, in 2014, Holtzman’s lab identified the sleep-related protein orexin as a possible target for Alzheimer’s prevention.

“While important, this new NIAAA study is, of course, not the end of the story,” said Armour. “It raises many new questions for researchers. What exactly is going on in sleep that makes it so important for brain health and stability? Can the toxic process be reversed if sleep is improved? Understanding all of this in better detail provide us with another critical puzzle piece useful in stopping this terrible disease.”


Link to original NIH news release:


Links to Cure Alzheimer’s funded research: