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Innovative dedicated unit will look into link between sleep and dementia - and you could help find the answer

PUBLISHED: 09:00 04 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:34 04 April 2019

A new sleep research unit has opened at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Pictured, PHD student Ziad Shabana. Photo: Victoria Pertusa

A new sleep research unit has opened at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Pictured, PHD student Ziad Shabana. Photo: Victoria Pertusa

Victoria Pertusa

Scientists at the University of East Anglia will investigate the link between sleep and dementia at a new state-of-the-art sleep unit opening today.

A new sleep research unit has opened at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Pictured, lead researcher Dr Alpar Lazar. Photo: Victoria PertusaA new sleep research unit has opened at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Pictured, lead researcher Dr Alpar Lazar. Photo: Victoria Pertusa

Sleep disturbances are common in dementia. But it is not yet known whether Alzheimer’s causes sleep problems, or whether sleep problems could be an early predictor of the disease.

Pioneering research at UEA’s new sleep and brain research unit will investigate this big question.

The research team hope that treating sleep disturbances early on could help slow down the progression of the disease – particularly as there are no other treatments available which do this.

The first study to take place in the unit will investigate whether healthy people who are at increased genetic risk of developing Alzheimer’s could be more vulnerable to sleep loss and how their body clock is affected.

A new sleep research unit has opened at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Photo: Victoria PertusaA new sleep research unit has opened at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Photo: Victoria Pertusa

Volunteers spending a night in the unit can expect to stay in a modern hotel-like en-suite.

But instead of a relaxing break – their every move will be overlooked by a team of sleep specialists. They will also be hooked up to sensors measuring brain activity and take part in thinking, memory, balance, co-ordination, and attention tests throughout their stay.

Lead researcher Dr Alpar Lazar, from UEA’s School of Health Sciences, said: “We live in an ageing society, and sleep disturbances and dementia are two significant health problems in older adults.

“A symptom of Alzheimer’s is poor sleep. Good sleep is central to maintaining cognitive performance - such as attention and memory as well as general brain health.

A new sleep research unit has opened at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Pictured, PHD student Ziad Shabana. Photo: Victoria PertusaA new sleep research unit has opened at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Pictured, PHD student Ziad Shabana. Photo: Victoria Pertusa

“Sleep deficits have been shown to be early markers in certain brain disorders.

“But is it Alzheimer’s causing sleep problems, or do sleep problems modulate or contribute to the disease process?

“Recent evidence suggests that sleep could be actively involved in the disease process. Trying to identify the cause of early sleep problems in people who have been recently diagnosed or who have genetic predispositions towards Alzheimer’s and the impact of these sleep problems on the brain will help us determine whether improving sleep could potentially slow down the disease process.”

“In this first study, we will look at healthy people who may, or may not, have an increased genetic risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in the future.

“Volunteers will undertake a screening process, including genetic and psychological testing, wearing a small wrist-worn device to measure sleep and activity at home, and keeping a sleep diary.

“They will then take part in a three-night lab session under one of two conditions –including one night complete sleep deprivation, or taking multiple short naps.

“It may sound gruelling, but we hope it will help us understand more about the links between sleep, the body clock and the genetic risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This will help design future studies investigating specific sleep related interventions that could potentially slow down the progression of the disease.”

Local non-smoking healthy men and women aged 40-90 years are required for the study investigating the role of a risk gene for Alzheimer’s disease and sleep quality and memory functions.

The study requires a screening process including genetic testing, a home-based field session comprised of activity monitoring through a wrist-worn watch and a sleep diary.

Participants can also choose whether to take part in an additional three night lab session in one of two conditions, sleep deprivation or multiple naps.

Please note that not all volunteers may be eligible to take part in any or part of the study components as restrictions apply. Payment is offered in compensation for time and inconvenience.

The study team can be called on 01603 597539, or emailed on sleep.brain@uea.ac.uk

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