Study shows: If you don’t snooze, you lose.
Study #1 – Lasting brain damage from sleep deprivation
The goal of the study was to determine if “total sleep deprivation” – i.e., pulling an all-nighter – would negatively affect certain neurons or proteins in the human brain. To test this, the scientists took 15 young and healthy normal-weight men and subjected them to few hours of sleep deprivation, drawing blood samples before and after the sleep intervention (because high concentrations of certain markers in blood suggest possible neuron damage or impairment of the blood brain barrier function). The scientist also tested the same subjects’ blood after getting a full night’s sleep.
The researchers found that the critical markers – increased blood concentrations of molecules NSE and S-100B – were present the morning after the sleep deprivation. These chemicals are the same ones that would be elevated in blood levels after a brain damage event (though not to the same degree).
Their conclusion: lack of sleep can invoke brain-degenerative processes.
The theory the scientists postulated from the study is that the lack of sleep prevents the brain from performing normal toxin-clearing functions. Though the study did not go deep enough to connect the sleep deprivation with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or multiple sclerosis, the scientists suspect that further studies based on their research may make such a connection.
Study #2 – Brain shrinkage from sleep deprivation
The study researchers examined 147 young and elder adults, seeking a link between sleep difficulties (having trouble falling/staying asleep at night), and brain volume. The participants underwent two MRI brain scans, an average of 3.5 years apart, before completing a questionnaire about their sleep habits. The assessment looked at how long people slept, how long it took them to fall asleep at night, use of sleeping medications, and other factors.
The study found that those with sleep difficulties showed a more rapid decline in brain volume over the course of the study in widespread brain regions, including within frontal, temporal and parietal areas, with results most pronounced in those over age 60.
"It is not yet known whether poor sleep quality is a cause or consequence of changes in brain structure," said study author Claire E. Sexton, DPhil, with the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
"There are effective treatments for sleep problems, so future research needs to test whether improving people's quality of sleep could slow the rate of brain volume loss. If that is the case, improving people's sleep habits could be an important way to improve brain health."
Are you getting enough sleep?
- Problems Sleeping and Health Risks – on sleep deprivation effects
- Getting a Good Night's Sleep – on sleep disorders and how much sleep we actually need by age
- Foods That Help You Sleep – information on sleep-producing foods and how they work