You might think that losing one night of sleep is harmless, but you could be wrong.
A new study conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden found that pulling one all-nighter is enough to increase the levels of the protein tau, a biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease.
Tau proteins are found in neutrons, but they tend to build up in the brains of those who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
While the health condition tends to affect people of an older age, the accumulation of tau in the brain actually starts decades before any symptoms show themselves.
This isn’t the first time that lack of sleep has been connected to tau, as various studies with older adults have found that poor sleep habits led to increased levels of the protein.
Meanwhile, head trauma has also been identified as another cause of elevated tau levels.
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Study author Jonathan Cedernaes, from Uppsala University, said in a release: “Many of us experience sleep deprivation at some point in our lives due to jet lag, pulling an all-nighter to complete a project, or because of shift work, working overnights or inconsistent hours.
“Our exploratory study shows that even in young, healthy individuals, missing one night of sleep results in a slight increase in the level of tau in blood. This suggests that over time, similar types of sleep disruption could potentially have detrimental effects.”
The study was conducted on 15 healthy men, all of a normal weight, with an average age of 22.
On a typical night, each man reported getting around seven to nine hours of sleep.
This research consisted of two phases – and during each the participants were given the exact same meals and activity schedules while residing in a sleep clinic for a full two days and nights.
Additionally, blood samples were taken each evening and morning during both phases, in the first, participants were allowed to get a good night’s sleep.
As for the second, they were able to sleep the first night but had to stay up the second time round.
During the night they stayed up, lights were kept on and the men could play games, watch movies or even talk to each other to pass time.
And after just one night of sleep deprivation, the men saw their tau levels increase by an average of 17%.
For comparison, tau levels only increased by an average of 2% following a normal night of adequate sleep.
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Jonathan continued: “It’s important to note that while accumulation of tau in the brain is not good, in the context of sleep loss, we do not know what higher levels of tau in blood represent.
“When neurons are active, release of tau in the brain is increased. Higher levels in the blood may reflect that these tau proteins are being cleared from the brain or they may reflect an overall elevation of the concentration of tau levels in the brain.”
While findings are interesting, it's important to note that this research only reflects results from 15 men.
Further studies are needed to investigate if there's a link between Alzheimer's and sleep.
Researchers must also establish how long these changes in tau last.
Jonathan added: “Such studies could provide key insight into whether interventions targeting sleep should begin at an early age to reduce a person’s risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.”
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