A new study suggests that lack of night sleep might affect how fast the brain’s gray matter shrinks, particularly in people older than 60. It is worth noting that the results of the study showed the link between brain shrinkage and poor quality of sleep, which does not necessarily mean less hours of sleep.
Researchers at the University of Oslo, Norway, led by Dr. Claire Sexton, examined 147 adults aged between 20 and 84. The participants underwent two MRI brain scans with an interval of approximately 3,5 years between them, and were questioned about their sleep habits. The questions were aimed at evaluating the quality of their night sleep, including how much time they needed to fall asleep, how sleepy they felt in the daytime, whether they used any medications to help them sleep, etc. It was found that participants slept about 7 hours a night and took approximately 20 minutes to fall asleep.
The results showed that 35% of the participants had a poor sleep quality. At the same time, their brain scans revealed a more rapid decline in grey matter volume in the frontal, temporal and parietal lobes – brain areas responsible for decision-making, learning, memory and problem-solving. These changes were even more pronounced in participants over 60 years old.
It is not the first study to show the link of sleep quality to brain health. It is a well-known fact that lack of sleep can have devastating effects on human brain and can lead to mental disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
“We spend roughly a third of our lives asleep, and sleep has been proposed to be ‘the brain’s housekeeper’, serving to restore and repair the brain. It follows that if sleep is disrupted, then processes that help restore and repair the brain are interrupted and may be less effective, leading to greater rates of decline in brain volume,” explained Dr. Sexton.
At the same time, the study does not clear up whether lack of sleep causes rapid brain shrinkage or vice versa. “It is not yet known whether poor sleep quality is a cause or consequence of changes in brain structure,” noted Dr. Sexton.
According to the researchers, people need to understand that sleep is a vital aspect of health and well-being, and changing sleep habits could dramatically enhance one’s brain health. Dr. Sexton gave some suggestions on how to improve one’s quality of sleep, such as going to bed at the same time every night, avoiding using mobile phones and other gadgets at bedtime, as well as being active and spending time outside during the day.
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