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Does long sleep work as an early warning system for Alzheimer's disease?
Some people only sleep about six hours a night and are still rested and fresh. Then of course there are so-called late risers who sleep at least nine hours a night. Researchers have now found that generally long sleep and a sudden shift in sleep patterns towards longer sleep can be an early warning sign of Alzheimer's disease.
Scientists at the Boston University Medical Center found that more than nine hours of sleep a night could indicate Alzheimer's. The experts published the results of their study in the journal "Neurology".
Long sleep times can indicate damage to the brain
If people consistently spend more than nine hours in bed each night, they are at twice the risk of developing dementia over the next ten years compared to people with normal sleep times, the study authors say. A change in the sleep pattern is a reliable warning sign because the human brain controls activity and sleep behavior. If the sleep pattern changes and people suddenly sleep much longer on a regular basis, this could indicate that the brain has suffered damage.
Long sleep is a symptom of brain changes
The researchers also found that late risers (nine hours of sleep or longer) had less brain volume, took longer to process information, and showed signs of memory loss. It is crucial to understand that the inability to get out of bed is a symptom of existing brain changes, but not the cause, the scientists say. The experts add that older people cannot protect themselves from dementia by setting their alarm clock earlier.
Study examines more than 2,400 subjects
The doctors examined more than 2,400 people over a period of ten years. The participants had an average age of 72 years. The results led to new insights into dementia diseases. The sleep duration can therefore be a useful clinical tool, the researchers explain. It can help determine who is at increased risk of developing dementia over the next ten years, says Dr. Matthew Pase from Boston University Medical Center. If people report long sleep times, this could justify an examination of the brain and memory.
Dementia was diagnosed in 234 participants
There have been several other studies recently that have come to the conclusion, for example, that slow speaking and the reduction of the sense of smell can also indicate Alzheimer's. In the current study, however, the subjects were asked how long they usually slept each night. In addition, they have been medically monitored for more than a decade. During this period, doctors discovered 234 cases of dementia.
Education protects against Alzheimer's
Sleeping for more than nine hours a night doubles the risk of all types of dementia, and especially Alzheimer's, the authors say. If participants without a high school diploma slept more than new hours, the risk of dementia increased sixfold. This suggests that education can protect against the condition, the researchers report.
More research is needed
Unusual sleep patterns are quite common in people with dementia. The current study suggests that changes in sleep may be clearly visible long before symptoms such as memory loss begin, the authors explain. A better understanding of how human sleep is affected by dementia could help doctors identify people at increased risk. Previous studies had shown that people with early dementia often suffer from sleep interruptions. This condition is a similar sign of the so-called neurodegeneration. However, the results of the current study are based on self-reported information about the subjects' sleep. For this reason, further studies on the subject should be carried out, say the experts. (as)