Too little sleep could shrink your brain

A new study published online in Neurology suggests that getting too little sleep could lead to a shrinking brain.The study involved 147 adults with an average age of 54 years. They underwent two brain scans, one at the start of the study and one an average of three and half years later. Before getting the scans, participants completed a questionnaire about their sleep habits.

A total of 35 percent of the participants met the criteria for poor sleep quality. They scored an average of 8.5 out of 21 points on the sleep questionnaire. It looked at how long people slept, how long it took them to fall asleep at night, use of sleeping medications, and other factors.

Results show that participants with poor sleep quality had shrinkage in one part of their frontal cortex. They also had deterioration in three other parts of the brain that are involved in reasoning, planning, memory and problem-solving. The results were more pronounced in people over 60 years old.

“It is not yet known whether poor sleep quality is a cause or consequence of changes in brain structure,” lead author Claire E. Sexton, DPhil, said in a press release. She is a postdoctoral research assistant at 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.”

There are some things you can do to help improve your sleep. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time very morning. Avoid things like alcohol and caffeine, especially late in the afternoon. Create a sleep-friendly environment: cool, dark and quiet. Turn off all electronics an hour before bedtime.