Research is increasingly linking insomnia to dementia, the umbrella term for a range of conditions that cause a decline in brain function, of which Alzheimer’s is the most common.
Deep sleep occurs when body temperature drops and the brain begins to produce slow, rhythmic electrical waves.
After monitoring the participants for up to six years, brain scans revealed those who got the least deep sleep had higher levels of amyloid beta, according to results published in the journal Cell. It is unclear whether they were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Deep sleep is thought to help wash away excessive amyloid beta. Healthy levels of the protein play a critical role in nerve cell growth and repair.
“There is something about this deep sleep that is helping protect you,” said study author Professor Matthew Walker, according to NPR.
The scientists hope an individual’s Alzheimer’s risk could one day be assessed based on their sleep patterns.
“We have a specific sleep signature right now that seems to help us better understand where you may sit on the Alzheimer’s risk trajectory in the future,” said Professor Walker.