Included in the results of a new report released Monday, the risk of Alzheimer's disease, the sixth leading cause of death for adults in the US, is now said to be exacerbated if normal sleep patterns are disrupted.
The study by a team of researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, noted that bad sleep habits contribute to the buildup of chemicals known to cause the deadly disease.
Two proteins, amyloid-beta and tau, accumulate as plaque and tangles in the brain and cause Alzheimer's, a neurodegenerative disease that in 60-70 percent of cases causes dementia and eventual death within three to nine years following an accurate diagnosis, according to Ibtimes.com.
In the course of the new study, 17 men and women between the ages of 35-65 wore headphones while sleeping. While asleep, the test subjects were subjected to beeps that grew louder until slow-wave sleep patterns in the brain were disrupted, resulting in shallow sleep.
A spinal tap procedure the next morning then measured amyloid beta and tau levels in the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.
The study revealed that when sleep was disrupted, higher levels of amyloid-beta were measured.
"We were not surprised to find that tau levels didn't budge after just one night of disrupted sleep while amyloid levels did, because amyloid levels normally change more quickly than tau levels," asserted the study's lead author in a statement cited by Science Daily.
"But we could see, when the participants had several bad nights in a row at home, that their tau levels had risen," the statement added.
The study also noted that those with chronic sleep problems are at risk of having more of these kinds of proteins accumulate in their brains, possibly leading to Alzheimer's disease.
"The main concern is people who have chronic sleep problems," the study lead said. "I think that may lead to chronically elevated amyloid levels, which animal studies have shown lead to increased risk of amyloid plaques and Alzheimer's."
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that Alzheimer's deaths have risen some 55 percent in just 15 years, as in 2014, 93,541 deaths were attributed to the disease while 44,536 were documented in 1999.
"Millions of Americans and their family members are profoundly affected by Alzheimer's disease," a CDC spokesperson said in May. "As the number of older Americans with Alzheimer's disease rises, more family members are taking on the emotionally and physically challenging role of caregiver."
The Alzheimer's Association has observed that the disease is "not normal aging" and is a "progressive brain disease without any cure."