New study to examine link between sleep problems, cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease

Everybody knows sleep is good for your body. It may be good for your mind, too.

That's what scientists at Wake Forest School of Medicine will attempt to determine thanks to a $5.3 million grant from the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Known as POINTER-zzz, the nationwide, multiple-site study will examine whether lifestyle changes can improve chronic sleep problems, which have been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease.

"In older adults, chronic sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea and waking up multiple times a night, are associated with impaired hippocampal functioning, greater brain beta-amyloid accumulation and increased risk for Alzheimer's, as well as reduced cardiovascular and cerebrovascular health," said Kathleen Hayden, Ph.D., one of the principal investigators of the study and associate professor of public health sciences at Wake Forest School of Medicine, part of Wake Forest Baptist Health.

Although there is some evidence to suggest that diet, exercise and cardiometabolic risk reduction can improve sleep and that improved sleep benefits cognitive function in older adults, these effects have not been confirmed in a large-scale, rigorous clinical trial with comprehensive and objective measures of sleep, Hayden said.

POINTER-zzz is a substudy of the Alzheimer's Association U.S. Study to Protect Brain Health through Lifestyle Intervention to Reduce Risk (U.S. POINTER), which is a two-year clinical trial launched in 2018 to evaluate whether lifestyle changes that target multiple risk factors can protect cognitive function in people at risk of developing memory decline and dementia.

Laura Baker, Ph.D., associate professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest Baptist, who is co-principal investigator for U.S. POINTER, also is co-principal investigator for NIA's POINTER-zzz study.

Baker said that POINTER-zzz also will examine whether changes in sleep predict changes in overall cognitive function or in specific areas, such as memory. POINTER-zzz results may identify an effective strategy for improving sleep that could have important consequences for the prevention of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.

Only people enrolled in the U.S. POINTER study are eligible to be included in the POINTER-zzz study.

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