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2023 Alzheimer's Association Research Grant (AARG)

Leveraging Longitudinal Cohort Data to Assess Sleep as a Risk Factor for AD

How do changes in sleep patterns over time promote Alzheimer’s in older individuals?

Kelsie Full, Ph.D.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Nashville, TN - United States


According to many studies, individuals at risk of dementia experience sleep disruptions or poor sleep patterns – patterns that precede cognitive (brain function) impairment or Alzheimer’s by several years. Researchers have found that poor sleep may reduce brain function by hindering the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other or by damaging certain brain structures. However, these studies have been limited as they typically focus on only one aspect of sleep (such as sleep duration) or on sleep measured at only one time point. To more thoroughly explore the role of sleep in brain health, scientists will need to assess how multiple aspects of sleep can affect brain structure and function over time and lead to brain disease.

Research Plan

Dr. Kelsie Full and colleagues will examine older individuals from the Vanderbilt Memory and Alzheimer’s Center, a large study of aging to study sleep. The researchers will employ wristband actigraphy (a non-invasive method of recording human sleep-wake cycles) to measure three aspects of sleep: (1) sleep duration, or total minutes of sleep; (2) sleep quality, or the proportion of the sleep period spent sleeping; and (3) sleep regularity, or how sleep patterns vary across multiple nights. They will then analyze how the three sleep aspects are linked to factors including cognition, brain structure, and dementia-related protein levels in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid (or CSF, the biological fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord). These factors of brain health will be measured by cognitive tests, blood and CSF analysis, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans. Individuals will be monitored and tested at intervals over a three-year period, and Dr. Full’s team will use sophisticated analytical techniques to assess various links between sleep and brain health.


The results of this project could provide a more complete understanding of how long-term alterations in sleep may promote dementia risk in older individuals. They could also lead to novel, sleep-related methods of preventing or slowing dementia onset.

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