Given our busy and chaotic lives, as many as one in three people have trouble sleeping – either they are not getting enough sleep, or suffer disturbed sleep or in some cases, it’s a combination of both. Whatever be the situation or the reason, lack of sleep can play havoc with your physical as well as mental health. It can make you forgetful, tempt you to overeat, cause lethargy and raise your blood pressure. A new study, published in the journal Neurology, shows that poor sleep may also have some serious consequences like increasing your risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

For the study, the team examined 101 people with an average age of 63 years who had normal thinking and memory skills but who were considered at a risk of developing Alzheimer’s, either having a parent with the disease or being a carrier of a gene called apolipoprotein (APOE) that increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

The findings of the study showed that people who reported bad quality of sleep, sleep problems and daytime sleepiness showed more biological markers that indicate the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. This particularly including signs of amyloid, Tau and brain cell damage or inflammation in their spinal fluid which hints at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Amyloid and Tau are types of proteins that are found in the brains of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Amyloid can fold and form into plaques while Tau forms tangles in the brain.

Researchers point out that disrupted sleep or lack of sleep may lead to amyloid plaque build-up because the clearance mechanism of the brain kicks into action only while sleeping. However, not everyone with sleep problems had abnormalities in their spinal fluid. The study found no significant connection between Alzheimer’s disease and obstructive sleep apnoea.

“It’s still unclear if sleep may affect the development of the disease or if the disease affects the quality of sleep. More research is needed to further define the relationship between sleep and these biomarkers,” says Barbara B. Bendlin, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States.

If you have trouble sleeping, try having some sleep inducing foods like banana, a glass of warm milk, few almonds or a teaspoon of honey just before going to bed. These foods relax your muscles and tired nerves, they contain amino acid tryptophan that encourages sleep and promote the production of sleep hormone melatonin that signals your brain to switch off and rest.

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