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05 Feb | 2021

Visits to the new study on the relationship between insomnia and Alzheimer's begin

The Barcelonaβeta Brain Research Center (BBRC) has begun visits to the Alfa Sleep study, which will delve deeper into the relationship between insomnia and Alzheimer’s. The study aims to visit 200 participants, is expected to last 3 years, and is funded by two competitive projects from the Alzheimer’s Association Research Fellowship Program and the Carlos III Health Institute.

"Alfa Sleep is a qualitative leap in research because we will use state-of-the-art tools to monitor the quality and quantity of sleep" explains Dr. Oriol Grau, principal investigator of the study at the BBRC. Specifically, the project will perform polysomnography, use actigraphs, and analyze the levels of the neuropeptide orexin, which plays a key role in regulating sleep and could be involved in Alzheimer’s disease.

These techniques, together with other tests already carried out by the participants in the Alfa + study, promoted by the 'la Caixa' Foundation, will make possible to have very precise and reliable data to study the association between different sleep parameters and biochemical changes as well as in brain structure and functionality.

The hypothesis of the study is that lower sleep quality is associated with increased pathological accumulation of proteins closely linked to Alzheimer's disease (tau and beta amyloid proteins), and changes in brain structure and function.


Relationship between insomnia and Alzheimer's

The relationship between insomnia and cognition is widely studied, and it is well known, for example, that after a sleepless night, the next day it is much more complicated to perform cognitive tasks such as writing or taking an exam. There are also studies showing that sleep disorders increase the risk of developing long-term cognitive problems. However, the mechanisms behind this association are not well known.

In the case of Alzheimer's disease, everything points to the existence of a vicious circle: on the one hand, little and bad sleep promotes the accumulation of beta-amyloid and tau proteins; and on the other hand, Alzheimer’s affects from early stages to regions of the brain involved in sleep regulation, favoring the onset of insomnia.
As Dr. Grau concludes, "if we understand the mechanisms behind the relationship between Alzheimer's and insomnia we can help design clinical trials or other interventions focused on improving the quality of sleep to try to prevent the disease".

In early 2020, BBRC researchers published a study that revealed that people with sleep problems have differences in cognitive performance and brain structure, especially in the white matter and some regions that are affected in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.