People who report a declining quality of sleep as they age from their 50s to their 60s have more protein tangles in their brain, putting them at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life, according to a new study by psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley.
The new finding highlights the importance of sleep at every age to maintain a healthy brain into old age.
“Insufficient sleep across the lifespan is significantly predictive of your development of Alzheimer’s disease pathology in the brain,” said the study’s senior author, Matthew Walker, a sleep researcher and professor of psychology. “Unfortunately, there is no decade of life that we were able to measure during which you can get away with less sleep. There is no Goldilocks decade during which you can say, ‘This is when I get my chance to short sleep.’”
Walker and his colleagues, including graduate student and first author Joseph Winer, found that adults reporting a decline in sleep quality in their 40s and 50s had more beta-amyloid protein in their brains later in life, as measured by positron emission tomography, or PET. Those reporting a sleep decline in their 50s and 60s had more tau protein tangles. Both beta-amyloid and tau clusters are associated with a higher risk of developing dementia, though not everyone with protein tangles goes on to develop symptoms of dementia.