Thankfully a cure for cancer is now closer than ever before. New drugs are consistently coming to market with ever higher success rates.
Sadly, even when cancer no longer threatens our health there will be other chronically debilitating conditions, chief amongst these is dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.
This tragic deterioration of the mind is on the increase with 89% increase in deaths from Alzheimer’s disease since 2000. There are currently more than 40 million sufferers, representing 1 in 10 adults over 65 years of age. Mercury levels from eating tuna are thought to be a contributing factor but more likely is sleep deprivation. 60% of Alzheimer’s patients report at least one sleep disorder.
We now know that sleep is the time when our brain reboots itself. The masses of data acquired during the day is filtered and prioritised with new neural pathways being formed. Part of the filtering process is the flushing out of a waste product known as amyloid-beta.
Studies carried out on Alzheimer’s patients have identified a build-up of amyloid-beta in the middle regions of the frontal lobe. This is the brain area essential for the generation of very deep (slow brainwave) sleep. It is during this period of deepest sleep that the brain is most efficient at flushing out the waste amyloid-beta.
Patients with Alzheimer’s disease experience a build-up of amyloid-beta in the spaces between the brain cells. These take the form of sticky clumps or amyloid plaques which are poisonous to neurons, killing the surrounding brain cells.
If you’ve ever encountered a dispute by refuse collectors you will remember the appalling sights of rubbish building up in piles on the streets, uncollected. Within days, the smell penetrates the entire community, rats proliferate and before long public health comes under attack from repressed diseases such as cholera and typhoid.
In the same way that within weeks the build of uncollected refuse changes a city the build-up of ammyloid-beta in our brains will quickly and negatively impact our memory, whilst also inhibiting deep sleep thereby multiplying the negative effect. Over the long term, the impact could be irreversible taking the form of dementia.
With good sleep, it seems this dreadful end to life can be avoided, there’s much more research required to understand which other factors come into play but there’s now compelling evidence to suggest that poor sleep quality is a significant contributory factor towards Alzheimer’s disease, much like smoking is to cancer.