Many studies have shown the positive effects of sleep on memory, but researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis were curious to see if sleep could improve memory enough to help people with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia.
Learn more about the study and what researchers learned about the importance of sleep in brain health.
Sleep as an Alzheimer’s Treatment Method
Knowing that sleep can improve memory in a healthy brain, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis wondered if sleep could improve the memory of someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. The researchers, led by Paul Shaw, PhD and professor of neurobiology at the Washington University School of Medicine, evaluated the sleep habits of three different groups of fruit flies.
In each group of flies, the researchers disabled a specific gene that would cause different memory problems, with one group experiencing a memory condition very similar to Alzheimer’s. Another group had an issue making brain connections that encode memories while the third group had too many brain connections. Disabling the gene also meant that none of the fruit flies would not be able to make a new memory.
Researchers then increased the amount of sleep each group received by either using a drug to induce sleep, stimulating brain cells that cause sleep, or increasing a protein associated with sleeping. The extra sleep the flies received were an equivalent to an extra 3-4 hours of over a two day period for humans.
Restoring the Ability to Make New Memories
The researchers found that the additional sleep provided to the fruit flies did indeed restore the ability of all groups of flies to make new memories. Senior scientist and lead author of the study Stephane Dissel, PhD noted, “In all of these flies, the lost or disabled gene still does not work properly.”
“Sleep can’t bring that missing gene back, but it finds ways to work around the physiological problem.”
Researchers admit that further research is needed to understand the relationship between sleep and memory but they believe that their study may lead the way for new treatment methods. Shaw summarized the study by saying, “Our data showed that extra sleep can handle any of these problems. It has to be the right kind of sleep, and we’re not sure how to induce this kind of slumber in the human brain yet, but our research suggests that if we can learn how, it could have significant therapeutic potential.”
Have you seen the positive effects of sleep on memory in a loved one with Alzheimer’s? Do you think sleep can improve memory and restore the ability to make new memories? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.