What are circadian rhythm abnormalities?
Your regular sleep/wake cycle is a result of having a regular, daily sleep rhythm. The regular sleep/wake cycle is disrupted whenever you break from your routine 24-hour cycle. Lifestyle alterations such as shifting work schedules or traveling to a different time zone can make a person feel 'jet lagged,' or unable to sleep during the night hours, and sleepy during daylight hours. The unexplained disruption in circadian rhythm among Alzheimer's patients is not related to jet lag from time zone changes or from lack of sleep due to shift work. Instead, research shows that it is an abnormality in the body’s melatonin production (the hormone often used to prevent jet lag) that causes this sleep cycle alteration common among people with Alzheimer's disease.
What should you do?
Given the fact that there are medications that may help prevent Alzheimer's disease from getting worse, it is worthwhile to see a doctor for unexplained sleep disturbances. Your doctor will examine you and may decide to investigate further for Alzheimer’s disease if you have any signs on your medical examination.
The sleep disturbances can improve with medical treatment, so it is worth it to talk to your doctor to see if medical treatment would be right for you. So far, there is no evidence that medication for circadian rhythm sleep disturbances can prevent or worsen Alzheimer's disease, but, given this interesting association between the two disorders, it appears to be an emerging area of research study.
Sleep disturbances are key symptoms of very early stage Alzheimer disease with behavioral and psychological symptoms: a Japan multi-center cross-sectional study (J-BIRD), Kabeshita Y, et al. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. March 2016
Clinical management of sleep disturbances in Alzheimer's disease: current and emerging strategies, Urrestarazu E, et al. Nat Sci Sleep. January, 2016
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