A recent study found that a common sleeping pill may reduce the buildup of proteins that cause one of the most common diseases in the elderly.
Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis found that people who took suvorexant, a common treatment for insomnia, for two nights at a sleep clinic experienced slight decreases in two proteins, beta-amyloid and tau, which accumulate in Alzheimer’s disease. According to the “ScienceAlert” website.
Although the study was short and included a small group of healthy adults, the study is an intriguing demonstration of the relationship between sleep and molecular markers of Alzheimer’s disease.
Sleep disturbances can be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease that precedes other symptoms, such as memory loss and cognitive decline. By the time the first symptoms appear, abnormal beta-amyloid levels have nearly peaked, forming clumps called plaques that block brain cells.
Researchers believe that promoting sleep could be a way to stave off Alzheimer’s disease, by allowing the sleeping brain to clear out the leftover proteins and other junk of the day.
While sleeping pills help in this regard, “it would be premature for people who are worried about developing Alzheimer’s disease to interpret it as a reason to start taking suvorexant every night,” says neurologist Brendan Lucy, MD, of the University of Washington Sleep Medicine Center, who led the study. the study.
The study spanned just two nights and included 38 middle-aged participants who showed no signs of cognitive impairment and had no sleep problems.
However, prolonged use of sleeping pills is not an ideal solution for insomnia sufferers either, as it is very easy to become dependent on them.
Sleeping pills may also lull people into shallow bouts of sleep rather than the deep stages of sleep. This poses a problem as previous research has found a link between lower-quality, slow-wave sleep and higher levels of tangle protein tau and beta-amyloid.
In their latest study, Lucy and his colleagues wanted to see if improving sleep with the help of sleeping pills could lower levels of tau and beta-amyloid in the cerebrospinal fluid that lines the brain and spinal cord.
Previous research shows that even just one night of disrupted sleep can raise beta-amyloid levels.
A group of volunteers between the ages of 45 and 65 received one of two doses of suvorexant or a placebo, an hour after the researchers used cerebrospinal fluid to collect a small sample.
The researchers continued to collect samples every two hours for 36 hours while the participants slept and during the following day and night, to measure how much the protein levels had changed.
There were no differences in sleep between the groups, however beta-amyloid concentrations were reduced by between 10 and 20% with a dose of suvorexant usually prescribed for insomnia, compared with a placebo.
The higher dose of suvorexant also reduced levels of hyperphosphorylation of tau, a modified form of tau protein associated with tau crosslinking and cell death.
Hyperphosphorylation of a microtubule protein known as tau causes the protein to detach from the microtubules and form insoluble aggregates.
“If you can reduce tau phosphorylation, there is likely to be less synapses and less neuronal death,” says Losey, and remains hopeful that future studies in the elderly testing sleeping pills for months can measure a lasting effect on protein levels (noting any downsides). for sleeping pills).