A night with bad sleep already increases biomarkers for Alzheimer's

A night with bad sleep already increases biomarkers for Alzheimer's

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Lack of sleep and the consequences

Even a single night of disturbed sleep leads to a higher level of tau protein, a biomarker for Alzheimer's, in healthy men. This is new evidence that after just one night with sleep problems, the risk of Alzheimer's could increase.

A recent study by Uppsala University in Sweden found that a single night with too little sleep could have an impact on Alzheimer's risk. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal "Neurology".

Lack of sleep increases the level of tau proteins in the blood

According to the researchers, the preliminary study results show that young, healthy men, if they could not sleep properly for just one night, have a higher level of tau protein in the blood compared to men who slept for a full, uninterrupted night.

What is dew?

Tau is a protein that is found in neurons. The protein can accumulate and form lumps. These accumulate in the brain of people with Alzheimer's. This accumulation can begin decades before symptoms of the disease appear.

Other causes of higher dew levels

Previous studies in older adults have already shown that sleep deprivation can increase the tau level in the brain water. Trauma to the head can also increase the circulating concentration of tau in the blood.

Sleep disorders can have harmful effects

Many people suffer from sleep problems in the course of their lives, for example due to shift work, jet lag, overtime or irregular working hours. The results of the study show that even in young, healthy people, the loss of sleep at night leads to a slight increase in the level of tau in the blood. This suggests that similar types of sleep disorders could have potentially harmful effects over time, Uppsala University researchers report in a press release.

15 healthy, normal-weight men with an average age of 22 years participated in the study. They all reported that they usually got seven to nine hours of quality sleep a night on a regular basis.

Participants spent four nights in a sleep clinic

The investigation consisted of two different phases. For each phase, the men were followed in a sleep clinic for two days and nights, following a strict eating and activity schedule. Blood samples were taken in the evening and in the morning.

How did the investigation work?

In one phase, the participants were allowed to sleep normally on both nights. In the other phase, participants were allowed to sleep normally on the first night, followed by a second night with sleep deprivation. During sleep deprivation, the lights remained on while the participants sat in bed and played games, watched films or talked.

What effects have been observed?

The researchers found that after a night of sleep deprivation, the men had an average 17 percent increase in tau levels in the blood, compared to an average two percent increase in tau levels after a night with enough sleep.

Have other biomarkers been affected?

The researchers also looked at four other biomarkers that have already been linked to Alzheimer's, but there were no changes in values ​​between a night of good sleep and a night of no sleep.

More research is needed

When the neurons are active, the release of tau in the brain is increased. Higher levels in the blood may indicate that these tau proteins are excreted from the brain, or they may reflect an overall increased tau concentration in the brain. Future studies are needed to further investigate this and to determine how long these changes will last.

Dementia from disturbed sleep?

In addition, it should be determined whether changes in tau protein in the blood reflect a mechanism by which repeatedly restricted, disturbed or irregular sleep can increase the risk of dementia.

Should interventions start at a young age?

Such studies could provide important insights into whether interventions aimed at sleep should start at an early age and whether this can reduce the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer's.

What were the limitations of the study?

The main limitation of the study was the small size. In addition, only healthy young men were examined, so the results may not apply to women and the elderly. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Christian Benedict, Kaj Blennow, Henrik Zetterberg, Jonathan Cedernaes: Effects of acute sleep loss on diurnal plasma dynamics of CNS health biomarkers in young men, in Neurology (published 08.10.2020), Neurology
  • Losing a night of sleep may increase blood levels of Alzheimer’s biomarker, Uppsala University (published 1/9/2020), Uppsala University

Video: Mayo Clinic Minute: Sleep and Alzheimers disease connection (October 2022).