Norfolk

Alzheimer's: University of East Anglia to explore sleep link to brain disease

Elderly woman in bed suffering with insomnia Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The link between sleep problems and Alzheimer's will be explored as part of a project

A new sleep and dementia research unit at a university in England hopes to learn more about the link between sleep problems and Alzheimer's disease.

Scientists at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, will investigate with help from volunteers.

Sleep disturbance is common in dementia sufferers but it is unknown if Alzheimer's causes sleep problems or if sleep issues are a sign of the disease.

Sleep specialists will track volunteers overnight in a bid to learn more.

Researchers hope treating sleep disturbances early on could help slow down the progression of the disease. There are no other treatments available that do this, the university said.

An initial study at the new unit will investigate if healthy people who are at increased genetic risk of developing Alzheimer's could be more vulnerable to sleep loss and how their body clock was affected by sleep disturbance.

Image copyright Neil Hall/UEA
Image caption The sleep centre at the University of East Anglia

The project's first study will look at healthy people who may, or may not, have an increased genetic risk of developing Alzheimer's disease in the future.

After a screening process, volunteers will wear a small wrist-worn device to measure sleep and activity at home, and keep a sleep diary.

They will then take part in a three-night lab session under one of two conditions - including one night of complete sleep deprivation, or taking multiple short naps.

Lead researcher Dr Alpar Lazar, from UEA's School of Health Sciences, said: "We live in an ageing society, and sleep disturbances and dementia are two significant health problems in older adults.

"Good sleep is central to maintaining cognitive performance - such as attention and memory as well as general brain health.

"It may sound gruelling, but we hope it will help us understand more about the links between sleep, the body clock and the genetic risk of Alzheimer's disease.

"This will help design future studies investigating specific sleep-related interventions that could potentially slow down the progression of the disease."

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