Friday, September 12, 2014

Sleep problems may be linked to brain shrinkage: stud

Sleep problems may be linked to brain shrinkage: study

Jordan Chittley, Writer

Published Wednesday, September 3, 2014 5:43PM EDT 
Last Updated Thursday, September 4, 2014 8:43AM EDT

Can a lack of shut-eye actually cause your brain to shrink?

Sleep loss may lead to a faster rate of decline in the brain, a new study suggests. It's an important finding because lower brain volumes are linked to an increased risk of memory problems and dementia.

Other studies have concluded sleep problems result in poorer performance on cognitive tests. But the new research --published in the journal Neurology Wednesday -- found the brain actually changes over the years.

"This is a really important finding because we are trying to find out what the purpose of sleep is, and why it is important that we get sleep," lead author and Oxford researcher Claire Sextontold CTV News. "We found sleep problems were related to rate decline in some areas of the brain."

To conduct the study, researchers studied 147 adults of various agesover several years. The participants had MRI brain scans 3.5 years apart, in addition to completing a questionnaire about their sleep habits.

The questionnaire looked at how long people slept, how long it took them to fall asleep and if they used any sleeping medications.

About a third of the people in the study had chronically bad sleeps.

At the end of the study, brain scans showed more rapid decline in widespread areas of the brainfor participants who had sleep problems – a finding that was worse for those 60 or older.

"Poor sleep quality was associated with reduced volume within the superior frontal cortex and a greater rate of atrophy across the frontal, temporal, and parietal cortices," the studysaid.

 However,researchers acknowledge that it may be the other way around – meaning that if the brain is shrinking, it may lead to sleeping problems.

"A key issue, which our study was not designed to explore directly, is the degree to which poor sleep quality is a cause or a consequence of brain atrophy," the study reads.

Sleep is good for us, Sexton said, because it helps restore and repair the brain.

"While the study isn't definitive…try to get a better sleep," Dr. Andrew Lim, a neurologist at Toronto’s Sunnybrook hospital, told CTV News. "I wouldn't wait 20 years to see if the study was right or not."

Sexton said her goal is to see if improved sleep habits can lead to improved brain health.
"This is really exciting because it might be if we can improve people's sleep then this can help slow or prevent declines in brain volumes," she said.

If you aren't getting enough sleep, Sexton suggests getting into a good night-time routine, not checking emails or messages in bed, not having caffeine late at night and getting more exercise during the day. If problems persist, she suggests seeing a doctor about possible medications.

With files from CTV's Medical Specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip

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