Losing Sleep Can Hurt Your Brain

A recent study says that people over 60 may need to worry about the quality of their sleep, rather than the quantity. Too little quality sleep may have an effect on how fast the gray matter in your brain shrinks; there is already prove that your brain does shrink when you suffer sleep problems.

Led by Dr. Claire Sexton, the researchers out of the University of Oslo in Norway followed 147 adults between the ages of 20 and 84 to conduct their study. Each participant had two MRI brain scans done 3½ years apart. Questions were asked about their sleep habits: how long did it take them to fall asleep; how tired they felt during the day; did they use medications to get to sleep? Other questions along the same line were also asked. On average, the participants slept around 7 hours a night, and needed about 20 minutes to fall asleep.

The study revealed that 35% of all participants suffered from poor sleep quality. MRIs show rapid decline in volume of gray matter in the frontal, temporal and parietal lobes; these are area of the brain responsible for learning, memory, problem solving and decision making. In participants over the age of 60 these changes were even more profound.
This is by no means the first study to link sleep quality with brain health. Most studies find that losing sleep can devastate the human brain, and may even be a strong cause of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Sexton says that we sleep about a third of our lives, and “sleep has been proposed to be ‘the brain’s housekeeper’, serving to restore and repair the brain.” It stands to reason that if our sleep is disrupted in any way the brain cannot efficiently restore and repair itself; this leads to much faster rates of declining brain volume.

One thing the study did not show is whether the brain shrinks from lack of sleep, or if the brain shrinkage causes poor sleep habits. Further studies will have to determine this, one way or the other.

People need to understand that sleeping is vital to their health and well-being. Changing our sleep habits will have an effect on our brain. Dr. Sexton offers a few suggestions about improving the quality of our sleep:

– go to bed at the same time – every night
– stay away from mobile phones and other electronics just before bed
– stay active and go outside for part of each day
– sleep well, and live well.

Source: The Mind Unleashed 

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