Worldwide, as many as 38.5 million individuals are living with Alzheimer’s disease, 10 million are living with Parkinson’s disease, and 2.2 million are living with multiple sclerosis. Because neurodegenerative diseases are primarily present in mid-to-late life, the incidence rate is expected to rise rapidly as the population ages.
While some neurodegenerative diseases originate from non-modifiable factors such as genetics, many neurodegenerative diseases are multifactorial, meaning they develop from a combination of several factors, including modifiable factors such as environment and lifestyle. Poor lifestyle habits, such as an unhealthy diet, insufficient exercise, and alcohol and tobacco use, as well as vascular conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, are among the growing number of modifiable risk factors for neurodegenerative diseases.
Over the past several years, increasing amounts of research have indicated a strong connection between sleep and neurodegenerative diseases—poor sleep resulting from several sleep disorders has been identified as a modifiable risk factor.
Below, we take a closer look into the connection between sleep and neurodegenerative diseases and the need for early brain health monitoring for those affected by sleep disorders.
It is widely known that sleep-wake disruption is frequently observed in neurodegenerative disease patients and is often one of the earliest reported symptoms. Additionally, sleep-wake abnormalities are frequently accompanied by neurodegenerative or neurotransmitter changes. In other words, while poor sleep is often a symptom of neurodegenerative disease, increasing evidence suggests that poor sleep itself may contribute to the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases.
Examples of sleep-wake disorders that can cause poor sleep and consequently may contribute to an increased risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases and an increased rate of neurodegeneration include the following:
To summarize current research surrounding the connection between sleep and neurodegenerative diseases, here is what we know:
Sleep and neurodegenerative diseases are highly intertwined—their relationship is bidirectional and highly complex. While more research is required to better understand this relationship, the sleep-wake cycle may be an ideal target for potential interventions to slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases and possibly even prevent their development.
The immense amount of research surrounding modifiable risk factors for neurodegenerative disease has emphasized the need for monitoring the brain health of individuals with risk factors, including sleeping disorders. The brain health of all individuals who have known risk factors, whether modifiable or nonmodifiable, should be assessed and monitored—early and longitudinally—to detect neurodegenerative diseases as early as possible. Early detection of many progressive diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases, is crucial, as it can enable early intervention and, consequently, better health outcomes.
As research continues to identify new novel targets, the neurodegenerative disease drug development pipeline continues to grow, showing immense promise for a future where such diseases are both preventable and treatable. In the meantime, early and frequent monitoring of brain health, early diagnosis, and early intervention remain the most effective path towards fighting the increasing number of neurodegenerative disease cases.
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