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)
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)
392653 01: Actor Burgess Meredith performs in the television show 'The Twilight Zone.' (Photo Courtesy of Sci Fi Channel/Getty Images)
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)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 17: Malcolm Young of AC/DC performs on stage at Wembley Arena on January 17th, 1986 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Peter Still/Redferns)
NORMAN ROCKWELL'S AMERICA -- Pictured: Artist Norman Rockwell -- (Photo by: Gary Null/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Publicity close up of Hollywood actress Rita Hayworth wearing ornately decorated gloves and holding a cigarette in a cigarette holder.
NEW YORK CITY - FEBRUARY 29: Aaron Copeland attends 10th Annual Grammy Awards on February 29, 1968 at the New York Hilton Hotel in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage) (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actor Peter Falk poses as he arrives for the premiere of his new film
"Lakeboat" September 24, 2001 in Los Angeles. The film is an adaptation
of David Mamet's comic play about a grad student who takes a summer job
on a Great Lakes freighter and sees life through the eyes of his
low-brow crew members. The film opens in limited release in Los Angeles
September 28. REUTERS/Rose Prouser
Estelle Getty (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)
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.