People who have Alzheimer’s tend to sleep a lot. It is not because of the illness, which gradually destroys their thinking skills and memory; it is the changes in the brain. This is caused by the degenerative disease, which can cause issues with the person’s circadian rhythm. This rhythm is the daily cycle that helps to determine a person’s patterns of sleep.
The sleeping habits of a person with Alzheimer’s can be impacted in many ways. Some people with the illness will sleep during the day as opposed to sleeping at night. Some patients experience what is known as sundowning. This can cause confusion, irritability, or restlessness as daylight darkens. It is sometimes difficult for a patient to fall asleep as well as remain in their bed. This results in creating many challenges for the caregiver.
Many people who have Alzheimer’s disease have a full night’s sleep. Even so, many of them also sleep a lot during the day. Researchers speculate that looking at daytime napping patterns might help to predict the development of the disease. It still remains unclear as to why people with the illness have a need to sleep so much.
The University of California, San Francisco researchers, along with with other institutions, reveals that people with the disease experience significant brain cell loss. This occurs in areas of the brain tasked to keep us awake. Their studies also suggest that there is an overaccumulation of tau protein that triggers the brain changes.
Dr. Lea Grinberg, the senior author of the project, says their report offers definite evidence that the brain areas which promote wakefulness degenerate, and this is due to the accumulation of tau. This happens in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s.
During the study, Dr. Grinberg and her team analyzed the brains of 13 deceased people who had Alzheimer’s and seven dead people who did not have the disease. They found that those who had Alzheimer’s had a high level of tau that spanned three regions. These regions are the key to staying awake. The areas had also lost 75 percent of their neurons.
Jun Oh, the lead author of the study, explained that it is remarkable as it is not just a single brain nucleus that degenerates. Instead, it is the whole wakefulness-promoting network. This means the brain does not have a way to compensate. This is because all of the functionality related cell types are all being destroyed at the same time.
Dr. Grinberg concluded that we need to place more focus on trying to understand the early stages involving the accumulation of tau in these brain areas in order to have a better understanding of how to provide better treatment for Alzheimer’s patients.