Heal by Sleeping: African Americans at Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease Receive Promising News

Researchers say there are a number of benefits to getting proper sleep and Black Americans can certainly benefit. In fact, Black Americans who have a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s can use sleep to slow the onset of the disease.

brain tumor

“This new finding suggests that someone with a high-risk variant might be able to overcome their genetic inheritance by improving their sleep habits,” said lead author Bernadette Fausto, a member of the research faculty at Rutgers University-Newark in New Jersey.

“The findings were striking,” she said in a Rutgers news release.

According to the Alzheimers Association, Black Americans are both at greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease and get less sleep on average. The association says that while older Black Americans are twice as likely as older Whites to have Alzheimer’s or another dementia, research has not yet identified the cause. However, some research points to higher rates of cardiovascular disease, overall health management and socioeconomic status.  

According to the Journal for Clinical Sleep Medicine, Black individuals are more likely to have severe cases of the disorder sleep apnea and research suggests that city dwelling, increase in night-time noise and light pollution can impact the body’s ability to release the hormone melatonin.

“There’s a growing awareness that sleep is crucial for brain health and this may be a significant contributor to the high rates of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias among African Americans,” said co-author Mark Gluck, director of the Aging & Brain Health Alliance at Rutgers-Newark. “Sleep disruption of any sort can accelerate the progression of Alzheimer’s.”

While various factors exist, there is established research by NIH that provides insight into diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease. It reveals that African Americans are 35 percent less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and related dementias than whites.

Experts say that sleep is a time for the brain to undertake basic maintenance tasks, according to the Rutger’s study. Results indicate that people who also had the high-risk gene variant but reported poor quality sleep showed impairments in generalization of previous learning.

“Every cell is like a home — it generates garbage. This only becomes a problem if that garbage doesn’t get picked up,” Gluck said in the release.

That “garbage” gets collected during the specific type of sleep that occurs in the pre-dawn hours. When it doesn’t get collected, toxins can accumulate in the brain.

“We spend about a third of our life sleeping or trying to sleep, so that’s a pretty significant amount of our lives that’s easy to overlook,” Fausto said.

Read More About Neurology