A sleeping pill has shown potential when it comes to lowering the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease. But there’s not enough reason to start taking that pill yet.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis recently presented their findings from their study on the sleeping pill suvorexant – a member of the insomnia drug class called dual orexin receptor antagonists.
The insomnia medication works by blocking orexin, a natural biomolecule that promotes wakefulness. When orexin is inhibited, it’s easy for people to fall asleep, the researchers noted in a press release.
Sleep disturbances have long been regarded as an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease as people diagnosed with the condition struggle to fall and stay asleep years before the cognitive issues emerge. Poor sleep cycle appears to accelerate the harmful changes to the brain.
To break the cycle and to look for a way to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers examined how the insomnia drug affected the brains of those who took it before hitting the sack.
For the study, the research team monitored 38 middle-aged participants for two nights in a sleep lab and checked the changes in their brains in response to the sleeping pill.
The participants were divided into groups and given no dose, a lower dose and a higher dose at 9 p.m. before sleeping. While asleep, the researchers took samples of their brains and spinal fluid every two hours.
The team found that those who received a higher dose of suvorexant got a good night’s sleep. They also recorded 10-20% lower levels of beta-amyloid and 10-15% lower levels of phosphorylated tau protein than those who did not receive the drug.
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by the buildup of beta-amyloid and tau proteins. According to the researchers, their findings seemed encouraging because they showed the potential of a big difference in preventing the buildup of such waste proteins in the long run.
“If we can lower amyloid every day, we think the accumulation of amyloid plaques in the brain will decrease over time,” first author Brendan Lucey, the director of Washington University’s Sleep Medicine Center, said in the press release.
“This drug is already available and proven safe, and now we have evidence that it affects the levels of proteins that are critical for driving Alzheimer’s disease,” he added.
However, what they did was just a small, proof-of-concept study. More research is needed to establish the findings and prove that the sleeping pill could really lower the risk of Alzheimer’s.
“This is a small, proof-of-concept study. It would be premature for people who are worried about developing Alzheimer’s to interpret it as a reason to start taking suvorexant every night,” Lucey noted.
The study findings are published in the Annals of Neurology.