Sleep Disorders Can Signify Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerFebruary 6, 2017

Researchers have long believed that sleep plays an important role in overall health and wellness, particularly brain health. Recent studies focusing on the relationship between brain health and sleep suggest that sleep disorders may be an early sign of cognitive decline.


Learn more about how sleep affects brain health and the studies that are being done to understand more about the relationship.

Evidence of the Link Between Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease and Sleep Disorders

It’s no secret that there is a strong relationship between sleep and neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

One of the best indicators of the clear relationship between the two is seen in that more than 80% of people with rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD) go on to develop Parkinson’s, multiple system atrophy or dementia with Lewy bodies.

People who have RBD actually act of out their dreams, with their bodies failing to engage in the normal paralysis of REM sleep. This active dreaming often means larger health problems are on the horizon.

RBD is not the only indicator of the relationship. Even excessive daytime sleepiness,insomnia and interrupted sleep can be early indicators of cognitive decline. Researchers have thought that the sleep issues were a result of changes in the brain, either directly or brought about by medication for these diseases, but now, many are wondering if the relationship is more complex.

The Relationship Between Alzheimer’s and Sleep

As researchers look more into the relationship between brain health and sleep there could be evidence of a causal relationship, meaning that interruptions in the sleep/wake cycle, or the circadian rhythm may actually play a role in the development of a neurodegenerative disease, like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

One study examining the relationship found that levels of beta amyloid plaques, a hallmark characteristic of people with Alzheimer’s, increased during awake hours in the brains of mice genetically engineered to have the disease. The study also found that if the mice were deprived of sleep, amyloid levels increased.

Study author David Holtzman of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis says, “That’s the first evidence showing that if you manipulate the sleep/wake cycle, that could potentially play a role in the cause of a neurodegenerative disease.”

Other studies have shown that as amyloid deposits increase in the brain, sleep disturbances also occur, creating a vicious cycle. Holtzman says, “In other words, if you have too little sleep, it favors protein aggregation. Then once you get the aggregation, it makes sleep worse.”

Have you seen a correlation between cognitive decline and sleep disorders in a loved one? Share your story with us in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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