Nasty news about napping

If you find yourself wanting an afternoon nap more often than not, new research suggests that you may have early signs of Alzheimer’s.

The findings, published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia, reveal that the parts of the brain that keep you awake during the day are some of the first to be damaged in the early stages of the disease, which is why people with Alzheimer’s may seek ‘nanna naps’ before they start forgetting things.

Damage to the brain regions involved in daytime wakefulness is caused by a protein called tau, which may play a larger role in Alzheimer’s than the more extensively studied amyloid protein, noted the researchers.

“Our work shows definitive evidence that the brain areas promoting wakefulness degenerate due to accumulation of tau – not amyloid protein – from the very earliest stages of the disease,” said study senior author Dr Lea Grinberg.

Previous research suggested that excessive napping was due to poor sleep caused by Alzheimer’s-related disruptions in parts of the brain that promote sleep, or that people with sleep problems were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

In this study, the researchers concluded that Alzheimer’s disease actually attacks brain regions responsible for daytime wakefulness and are among the first damaged by the disease.

In Alzheimer’s-affected brains, significant tau build-up was found in all three wakefulness-promoting centres examined by the researchers, and those regions had lost as many as 75 per cent of their neurons, reports WebMD.

“It’s remarkable because it’s not just a single brain nucleus that’s degenerating, but the whole wakefulness-promoting network. Crucially, this means that the brain has no way to compensate because all of these functionally related cell types are being destroyed at the same time,” explained study lead author Jun Oh.

“It seems that the wakefulness-promoting network is particularly vulnerable in Alzheimer’s disease,” Jun Oh said in a UCSF news release. “Understanding why this is the case is something we need to follow up in future research.”

The findings suggest that tau build-up plays a greater role in Alzheimer’s than the more widely studied amyloid protein. Research into amyloid has so far failed to result in effective Alzheimer’s treatments.

Dr Grinberg said that the “research adds to a growing body of work showing that tau burden is likely a direct driver of [mental] decline.”

Do you often take afternoon naps or find yourself tired during the day?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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