The “all-nighter,” in which students stay up all night studying or completing school work, has become synonymous with the modern college experience. While it’s obviously unhealthy to stay up all night frequently, the occasional all-nighter isn’t typically considered detrimental to one’s well being. Now, quite surprisingly, a new study conducted at Uppsala University in Sweden has found some alarming evidence to the contrary. When young, completely healthy men went just one night without sleeping, their blood showed elevated levels of the protein tau, a biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease.
Tau proteins are found in neurons, but they tend to become entangled and build up in the brains of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. While Alzheimer’s doesn’t actually reveal itself until old age, this accumulation of tau in the brain actually starts decades before any symptoms show themselves.
Moreover, this isn’t the first time that lack of sleep has been connected to tau, various prior studies with older adults had found that poor sleep habits lead to increased tau levels. Head trauma has also been identified as a cause of elevated tau levels.
“Many of us experience sleep deprivation at some point in our lives due to jet lag, pulling an all-nighter to complete a project, or because of shift work, working overnights or inconsistent hours,” says study author Jonathan Cedernaes, MD, PhD, from Uppsala University, in a release. “Our exploratory study shows that even in young, healthy individuals, missing one night of sleep results in a slight increase in the level of tau in blood. This suggests that over time, similar types of sleep disruption could potentially have detrimental effects.”
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