Everyone has had one of those days where a night of choppy or short sleep leads into a morning of mental haze. New research presented at the Neuroscience 2012 conference suggests that sleep deprivation might be worse for you than you think.
For starters, sleepiness in the elderly could be an indication of Alzheimer’s risk, says Andrew Ward, researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Ward and colleagues did a study involving 84 elderly adults without memory problems, ranging from age 66 to 87. Researchers gave them a questionnaire about how likely they were to fall asleep during various daily activities, as a way to measure sleepiness. They also measured brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Researchers found that the sleepy study participants tended to show less coordinated activity in the default mode network, brain regions that are active when the brain is resting and are involved in introspection.
This suggests that people with bad sleep may be more susceptible to Alzheimer’s, but "we need to do more research to see if this is actually true," Ward said. The next step would be to follow the participants over time to see who develops Alzheimer’s in the long term. The study also suggests that improvements in sleep may restore network connectivity – but again, further investigation is necessary to make more substantial conclusions.
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