NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Could Alzheimer’s be the result of poor sleep?

That’s the troubling suggestion from a new study of older people.

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As CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez explained, it’s not actually about getting enough sleep, it’s about the quality of sleep that we do get.

We know Alzheimer’s patients have trouble sleeping, but a new study says poor sleep may itself be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

Experts tell us we are a sleep deprived nation, partly because we’re way too busy, but also because many of us get poor quality sleep, even when we do manage to nod off.

“It was like about maybe four hours, three hours, six hours if I was lucky,” Viviane Faria said.

Now, a study in the journal Neurology asked 100 cognitively normal people about the quality of their sleep, and found that those with poor sleep and daytime sleepiness had markers of Alzheimer’s disease in their spinal fluid.

The question is whether poor sleep is a cause or an early symptom of Alzheimer’s.

“Disrupted sleep could be a risk factor or an early sign of AD. It could be that sleeping problems is an early sign before memory problems,” Dr. Ricardo Osorio said.

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It’s not clear how poor sleep could be related to Alzheimer’s but one theory has to do with the idea that the disease is the result of waste products building up in the brain; waste products that are removed during sleep.

“And if you’re not sleeping, this is when the cleanup crew comes in and takes out the garbage. Sleep itself is very important for clearance of waste products of metal and some of those are involved in neurodegenerative disease,” Dr. Mony Deleon said.

It begs the question, could sleeping more actually help prevent Alzheimer’s?

“Sleep will improve mood, cognition, it’s not known if it improves AD, but some animal studies suggest it’s so,” Dr. Deleon said.

Taking sleep drugs is probably not the answer.

“There’s no evidence that taking meds will decrease the risk for AD, and some evidence that some drugs may actually make matters worse,” Dr. Osorio said.

It appears that while quantity of sleep is important, so is what experts call ‘architecture of sleep.’ The different phases of sleep; REM, delta, and so forth that are important, and drugs do not mimic normal sleep, they just knock you out.

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