Brain scientist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland Jeffrey Iliff says our sleep habits could be setting the stage for dementia.
He told NPR the brain clears out toxins linked to Alzheimer's during sleep and research has shown among animals that don't get enough, those toxins can build up over time and cause damage to the brain.
See some of the most notable people diagnosed with Alzheimer's over the years:
Notable people with Alzheimer's
Lack of deep sleep may be linked to Alzheimer's
This file photo dated 04 November, 1991 shows US President Ronald Reagan giving a speech at the dedication of the library bearing his name in Simi Valley, California. He was US president from 1981 to 1989 and retreated from public life after it was revealed he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. (Photo by J. David Ake, AFP/Getty Images)
In this Jan. 28, 2013, file photo, Tennessee head coach emeritus Pat Summitt smiles as a banner is raised in her honor before an NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee seniors Cierra Burdick and Ariel Massengale were part of the last class of Lady Vols to play for Pat Summitt. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)
Glenn Campbell performs during The Goodbye Tour at the Ryman Auditorium on January 3, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Ed Rode/Getty Images)
Picture dated 18 May 1991 of US actor Charles Bronson during the 44th Cannes film festival, southern France. Bronson died 30 August 2003 in Los Angeles of complications from pneumonia. (Photo by Gerard Julien, AFP/Getty Images)
American painter Norman Rockwell, 75, poses in his Stockbridge, Mass., studio on Feb. 12, 1977. (AP Photo)
Boxer Sugar Ray Robinson in posed action, May 8, 1947. (AP Photo)
Abigail Van Buren, the 71-year-old advice columnist, was in Seattle to address the fall meeting of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association, Sept. 28, 1989. (AP Photo/Robert Kaiser)
Actor Peter Falk on March 10, 1989 at his home in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Undated file photo of American actress and film star Rita Hayworth.(AP Photo)
392653 01: Actor Burgess Meredith performs in the television show 'The Twilight Zone.' (Photo Courtesy of Sci Fi Channel/Getty Images)
Actress Estelle Getty of "The Golden Girls" is shown at Trumps Restaurant in West Hollywood Jan. 29, 1986. (AP Photo/Steve Dakes)
LOS ANGELES - AUGUST 31: Actor James Doohan recieves his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame August 31, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
Sleep disorders are very common among people with Alzheimer's disease and for years now scientists have been working to prove a correlation exists
As NPR explained:
The first finding emerged in 2009, when researchers at Washington University in St. Louis showed that the sticky amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer's develop more quickly in the brains of sleep-deprived mice.
Then, in 2013, Iliff was a member of a team that discovered how a lack of sleep could be speeding the development of those Alzheimer's plaques: A remarkable cleansing process takes place in the brain during deep sleep, at least in animals.
What happens, Iliff says, is "the fluid that's normally on the outside of the brain, cerebrospinal fluid — it's a clean, clear fluid — it actually begins to recirculate back into and through the brain along the outsides of blood vessels."
This process, via what's known as the glymphatic system, allows the brain to clear out toxins, including the toxins that form Alzheimer's plaques, Iliff says.
Researchers in Oregon are preparing to do a study linking Alzheimer's with sleep deprivation in humans soon.