Sleep and its regulation: An emerging pathogenic and treatment frontier in Alzheimer's disease

Prog Neurobiol. 2021 Feb;197:101902. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2020.101902. Epub 2020 Aug 30.


A majority of patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) experience some form of sleep disruption, including nocturnal sleep fragmentation, increased daytime napping, decreased slow-wave sleep (SWS, stage N3), and decreased rapid-eye-movement sleep (REM). Clinical studies are investigating whether such sleep disturbances are a consequence of the underlying disease, and whether they also contribute to the clinical and pathological manifestations of AD. Emerging research has provided a direct link between several of these sleep disruptions and AD pathophysiology, suggesting that treating sleep disorders in this population may target basic mechanisms of the disease. Here, we provide a comprehensive review of sleep disturbances associated with the spectrum of AD, ranging from the preclinical stages through dementia. We discuss how sleep interacts with AD pathophysiology and, critically, whether sleep impairments can be targeted to modify the disease course in a subgroup of affected AD patients. Ultimately, larger studies that fully utilize new diagnostic and experimental tools will be required to better define the most relevant sleep disturbance to target in AD, the interventions that best modulate this target symptom, and whether successful early intervention can modify AD risk and prevent dementia.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Circadian rhythms; Dementia; EEG; Power spectra; Sleep.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / therapy
  • Sleep*