The Pitfalls Of Too Little Sleep May Be Greater Than You Think

10/21/2013 08:33 pm ET | Updated Oct 21, 2013
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When people are laying awake at night, they're usually thinking about the short-term effects of their sleeplessness -- the tiring day ahead and how many cups of coffee they'll need to survive. But a new, small study suggests the harmful effects of poor sleep or not enough sleep can be problematic over the long-term as well.

The study found older people who don't get enough restful sleep have brain imaging patterns similar to people suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at data from 70 adults with an average age of 76 and reported higher deposits of beta-amyloid in those who didn't sleep much or very well.

Beta-amyloid is a protein found in the brain, which tends to form into clusters and eventually into plaque that is the telltale sign of Alzheimer's. Normal sleep-wake patterns actually help regulate levels of beta-amyloid.

The participants reported sleeping upwards of 7 hours at the higher end, and no more than 5 hours at the lower end.

Since the data was taken from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging, the country's longest running study on aging, researchers say they will need to conduct further trials to know if sleep disturbance necessarily precedes beta-amyloid buildup. The study does open doors to future research studying whether or not bettering a person's sleep can prevent or delay beta-amyloid buildup and Alzheimer's progression.

Other studies have also shown a link between lack of sleep and memory. Earlier this year, a study showed older adults can experience memory loss and brain degeneration as a result of sleeplessness, The Huffington Post reported.

There have also been various conflicting studies debating whether people really need less sleep as they age. One thing's for certain, the improved cognition, increased attention-span, and overall better health that comes with getting enough Z's is enough to convince us to get to bed early.

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