Sleep and the impacts on memory & problem solving

Professor Danny Hoyer and Dr Laura Jacobson discuss sleep health research and neurodegenerative disorders during Sleep Awareness Week.

Sleep plays a significant role in how we learn and think – and healthy sleep is critical to cognitive function, helping to protect our brains from future damage. It is estimated that four out of ten adults in Australia regularly have inadequate sleep and there is increasing research to suggest a link between poor sleep quality and neurodegeneration.

This year, Sleep Awareness Week is focusing on the importance of improved sleep when recovering from a brain injury, Sleep Apnoea and dementia, in particular how altered brain activity during sleep may be a risk factor for cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative disorders.

Professor Danny Hoyer, Head of the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics and the Translational Neuroscience Laboratory, in the School of Biomedical Sciences, spoke of the current research underway within the department. In particular that of the Sleep and Cognition Laboratory led by Dr Laura Jacoboson, in the Florey Institute, one of the world’s top ten brain research centres.

Dr Jacobson is intrigued by the role of sleep plays in keeping us healthy and how irregular sleep may be both a contributor and a symptom of many brain diseases, including dementia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Sleep and Cognition Laboratory’s current research points to a bi-directional relationship between sleep and neurodegenerative disorders, in particular Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia. Sleep disruptions are emerging as crucial aspects of these disorders, both as a consequence and aggravator.

Previous studies have documented the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation and restriction in such disorders as well as in healthy subjects. Now, the laboratory has demonstrated that improving sleep using selective orexin receptor antagonists, has beneficial cognitive effects in a tauopathy-specific model relevant to Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia, amongst others. These results pave the way for further research into sleep and the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders. Further reading: A sleeping pill to slow Alzheimer’s and addiction?

You can follow the ongoing research and projects of the Sleep and Cognition Laboratory, Florey Institute here.

For more information on Sleep Awareness Week visit the Sleep Health Foundation, Australia’s leading advocate for sleep health. The foundation considers sleep as the third pillar of health, along with diet and exercise, and aims to raise awareness on the importance of sleep for optimal cognitive functioning.