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Don't lose sleep over reports that one bad night can spark dementia, says NHS Choices

Tuesday 10 April 2018

Following recent media headlines claiming, for example that “Just ONE bad night’s sleep ‘increases your chances of Alzheimer’s” (The Sun newspaper, 9 April 2018) we looked to the NHS Choices website for a more grounded look “behind the headlines”. Here is their commentary on this and similar headlines:

The study that prompted the claim involved only 20 people, none of whom had Alzheimer's disease. They were tracked over the course of just two nights of monitored sleep. During that time they were allowed to sleep as much as they wanted for the first night, and then on the second night they were kept awake by a nurse.

The researchers then used brain scans to measure levels of a protein called beta-amyloid that builds up naturally in the brain. This protein is found in larger amounts in people with Alzheimer's disease, although it is not clear if simply having higher levels of it for a short time increases the risk of Alzheimer's.

The study showed that people had slightly higher (5%) levels of beta-amyloid in their brains after a night of sleep deprivation compared with their levels after a good night's sleep. This brief assessment provides no proof these middle-aged people would go on to develop Alzheimer's if they continued to have sleepless nights. We don't know how their levels of beta-amyloid may vary over time.

We can't draw any conclusions about the relationship between sleep and Alzheimer's disease from this research. All we can say is that generally, getting a good night's sleep brings other important physical and mental health benefits – you can read here about how to sleep better.

You can read the full commentary here: