Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on September 6, 2014
A new study shows a link between poor sleep quality and faster rates of decline in brain volume.
According to researchers, sleep is the “brain’s housekeeper,” working to repair and restore the brain.
The study from researchers at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom included 147 adults between the ages of 20 and 84. Researchers examined the link between sleep difficulties, such as having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, and brain volume.
All participants underwent two MRI brain scans, an average of 3.5 years apart, before completing a questionnaire about their sleep habits.
The researchers found that 35 percent of the participants met the criteria for poor sleep quality, scoring an average of 8.5 out of 21 points on the sleep assessment. 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 researchers also found that sleep difficulties were linked with a more rapid decline in brain volume over the course of the study in widespread brain regions, including the frontal, temporal and parietal areas.
The results were more pronounced in people over 60 years old, according to the scientists.
“It is not yet known whether poor sleep quality is a cause or consequence of changes in brain structure,” said Claire E. Sexton, DPhil, author of the study, which was published in Neurology.
“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.”
Source: American Academy of Neurology