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If you wake up from a nap and just want to push the snooze button, you're doing it wrong! Buzz60's Sean Dowling has more.
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An increased, excessive nap may be an early warning of Alzheimer's disease, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Alzheimer's & Dementia on Monday.

When people hear about Alzheimer's disease, they immediately think about memory loss, Lea Greenberg, a professor of neurology at the University of California San Francisco, told USA TODAY.

Greenberg and 18 other scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Sao Paulo, among others, have worked on the document.

Researchers have previously found that people who develop the Alzheimer's show change in their sleepy years before their memory starts to decline, Greenberg says.

People who develop Alzheimer's disease tend to sleep more during the day, fall asleep or feel drowsy and doz, sometimes they wake up at night; it's called a fragmented dream, Greenberg said.

If naps are part of your routine, there is no need to worry about taking the afternoon or midnight for that matter.

"Anxiety only happens when it represents change," Greenberg said. "For example, in some cultures it is quite common to sleep every day. That's totally fine. "

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Although researchers knew that Alzheimer's disease and changes in a person's sleep behavior were related, the nature of the relationship was unclear. Greenberg said researchers did not know if changes in sleep could be a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease or a symptom of the disease.

"This new study suggests that prob emes with sleep may be closely linked to brain cell deaths seen in Alzheimer's disease, "Heather Snyder, Vice President of Medical Relations at the Alzheimer's Association, told the United States today

The team examined brain areas that promote awakening

When they did, they found evidence that an entire network of neurons that keeps us awake was wiped out by the disease, Greenberg said.

They examined brain tissue after the death of people who donated their brains for research. Inspecting the tissue after death is still the only reliable way to diagnose a neuro-degenerative condition.

Greenberg and her team examined the post-mortem tissue of 13 deceased Alzheimer's patients and compared them with others without the disease.

They find that the destruction of "awakening neurons" occurs in the brains affected by Alzheimer's disease. In these brains, the three brain regions that keep us awake had lost many of their neurons.

Researchers have found "significant amounts of Tau inclusions" in waking areas of the brain, the study said.

Tau is a protein present in the neurons of all species. Its normal function is to stabilize a certain part of the neuron. However, in the brain of a person with Alzheimer's disease, tau becomes abnormal and instead destabilizes neurons, researchers have found.

The accumulation of abnormal tau protein is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease, said Greenberg.

They do not know how much time elapses between changes in sleep pattern and memory loss. Greenberg said this happens to varying degrees of severity in different patients and may not affect some patients at all.

Their findings provide the basis for clinical trials that will address the questions raised by new research, Greenberg said.

As a result of this study, and one in the past, she said, they received funding to continue seeking changes in sleep patterns before memory loss began.

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While the published study focuses on areas of the brain that promote awakening, researchers are now evaluating other areas of the brain responsible for promoting sleep, and areas that regulate circadian rhythm.

Snyder said that more research is needed to understand the exact link between sleep and Alzheimer's disease. However, ensuring a good night's sleep, she said, is one of the "10 Ways to Love Your Brain" by the Alzheimer's Association.

Follow Morgan Hines on Twitter: @MorganEmHines .

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