Can a Common Sleeping Pill Be the Key to Alzheimer’s Prevention?

Can a Common Sleeping Pill Be the Key to Alzheimer’s Prevention?
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

According to a recent study, a common sleeping pill may have the potential to reduce the build-up of Alzheimer’s proteins in the brain. Sleep disturbances have been linked to the worsening of Alzheimer’s disease, and researchers believe that promoting better sleep could help prevent the disease. The study, conducted by researchers from Washington University in St. Louis, found that taking the sleeping pill suvorexant for two nights led to a decrease in two proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease, amyloid-beta and tau. While this study was only performed on a small group of healthy adults over a short period of time, it provides an interesting insight into the connection between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease.

Sleep Disturbances and Alzheimer’s

Sleep disturbances can serve as an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease, occurring before other symptoms such as memory loss and cognitive decline. By the time these symptoms develop, levels of abnormal amyloid-beta in the brain are already elevated, leading to the formation of plaques that can impair brain function. The researchers behind the study believe that by promoting better sleep, they can help the brain effectively clear out these proteins and other waste products.

The Role of Sleeping Pills

However, it’s important to note that relying on sleeping pills as a long-term solution for sleep issues is not ideal, as they can lead to dependence and may disrupt the quality of sleep. Previous research has shown a link between poor quality sleep and elevated levels of tau and amyloid-beta. In their study, the researchers wanted to determine whether using sleeping pills could lower levels of these proteins in the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. A group of middle-aged volunteers received either suvorexant or a placebo, and their protein levels were measured over a 36-hour period. The study found that the group taking suvorexant experienced a reduction in amyloid-beta concentrations, and briefly decreased levels of hyperphosphorylated tau. However, these levels returned to normal within 24 hours.

Sleep-Alzheimer’s Connection

While these findings are promising, further research is required to fully understand the relationship between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease. The leading theory that abnormal protein clumps drive the disease has faced criticism, as efforts to lower amyloid levels have not resulted in effective treatments. Therefore, the use of sleeping pills as a preventive treatment for Alzheimer’s disease remains uncertain. Nonetheless, there is an increasing body of evidence linking sleep disturbances to the disease, and improving sleep hygiene and seeking treatment for sleep problems can contribute to overall brain health.

While the study provides interesting insights into the potential benefits of sleeping pills in reducing Alzheimer’s proteins, more research is needed to validate these findings. It is hoped that future studies will explore the long-term effects of sleeping pills on protein levels and evaluate the downsides of such treatments. Ultimately, the goal is to develop drugs that leverage the connection between sleep and Alzheimer’s to prevent cognitive decline, but this objective has yet to be achieved.

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