Establishing good sleep habits young can have long term consequences for your health. A new study demonstrates the impact of early life sleep disruption has on acceleration of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) brain pathology. AD is a neurodegenerative disease affecting 5.6 million Americans and is characterized by progressive memory loss, inability to care for one’s self and eventual death. In brain tissue, changes in specific proteins are characteristic of AD, for example accumulation of Aβ amyloid plaques and taupathy, a pathological aggregation of the tau protein.
A University of Pennsylvania research team investigated two forms of sleep disruption, chronic short sleep (CSS) and chronic fragmented sleep (CFS) using a mouse model of tauopathy in both male and female mice. Researchers demonstrated that both forms of early life sleep loss decreased behavioral performance, including motor responses and spatial memory, and increased tau in two brain regions: the locus coeruleus (LC), one of the first locations for tauopathy in AD, and the amygdala, a structure related to emotional responses. This was associated with increased microglial formation, another sign of AD, and increased neuron loss in these brain regions.
Earlier, sleep loss has been shown to increase development of Aβ amyloid plaques, the other main player in AD. The results of this new study, demonstrating that yet another characteristic symptom of AD is accelerated by sleep disruption adds to the our understanding that sleep habits, starting with early life, can be critical to the development of neurodegenerative disorders later in life.