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Sleep Disturbances May Reduce Brain Size

Man with insomnia
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Like many people who aren’t getting enough sleep, you may have experienced mood swings or headaches. But sleep disturbances can have more serious consequences. According to sleep specialist and neurologist Dr. Neal Maru, sleep deprivation can affect your cardiovascular health, immune system, weight, brain, and memories adversely. Researchers have found that poor sleep may cause a cerebral protein buildup that assaults brain cells. But they’re still trying to discover why. Because insufficient sleep can lead to brain disorders including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, other scientists wanted to know if it also might affect brain size.

Study Discovers New Sleep Deprivation Possibility

examined two MRI scans of Norwegian adults ranging from 20 to 84 years old to study the association between brain volume or size and sleep difficulties such as insomnia over time. They took the initial scans before the participants with an average age of 54 complete questionnaires on their sleeping habits. Based on subjects’ answers, 35 percent met inadequate sleep health benchmarks. Problems included difficulty falling asleep, waking up overnight, and awakening too early the next morning. About three and a half years later, subjects completed another questionnaire and underwent follow-up brain scans. Sleep quality responses included how long people took to drift off, the number of hours they slept, how frequently they awoke, how groggy they felt during daytime hours, and if they took sleeping medicines. Participants reported taking 20 minutes on average to doze off and sleeping seven hours per night typically. After adjusting for variations in subjects’ weight, blood pressure, and physical activity levels, which can alter sleep quality, the investigators compared changes between the first and follow-up brain scans. Poor sleepers had faster declines in brain volume than people with satisfactory sleep patterns. Reduced brain sizes occurred in poor sleepers of all ages, but they became more significant among subjects older than age 60. The researchers detected shrinkages in one frontal cortex part. Deterioration or atrophy in three additional brain areas was faster among older adults. The affected regions are necessary for planning, reasoning, problem solving, and memory. Study author Claire Sexton from the University of Oxford suspects that poor sleep and shrinking brain volume are bi-directional problems. Sleep should function as your brain’s housekeeper by restoring and repairing it each night. However, insufficient sleep may interrupt these natural processes and make them less effective, possibly causing brain size declines. But more brain deterioration and volume loss also might contribute to sleeping difficulties. Even though sleep remains a mystery, improving your slumber quality also may enhance your health.

Insomnia Treatment Options

Around one in three adults report struggling to drift off or stay asleep. To improve your sleep, start with consulting your doctor. Some medical conditions including sleep apnea, overactive thyroid, bipolar disorder, restless leg syndrome, and chronic arthritic pain can cause insomnia. The right diagnosis and treatment can boost your sleep quality dramatically. If your physician doesn’t find any clinical causes that require specific medications, save by ordering a variety of over-the-counter sleep aids online. Natural options like Melatonin and Valerian can promote peaceful, restorative rest. Seeking professional counseling is another beneficial method. It can help you learn how to recognize and control your stress, anxiety, or depression, which may be contributing to inferior sleep quality.

Other Ways to Improve Your Sleep

Woman relaxing before bed, a sleep technician, says that the science of sleep is deceptively complicated. He monitors everything that occurs during sleep from brain activity to heart rate and rhythm. Problems stem from a combination of sleep amount and quality deficiencies. You are unable to function effectively without proper sleep. When you devote a-third of your lifetime to sleeping, you need to be sure that your bedtime habits and sleep are beneficial. Sexton, Diamond, and Harvard Medical School experts offer tips to improve your nightly rest period.
  • Spend time outdoors in the sunshine every day.
  • Engage in daily physical activities, but don’t delay until right before bed.
  • Avoid daytime naps.
  • Restrict or skip stimulants. Stop consuming caffeine as the day progresses. Drinking coffee, any other caffeinated beverages, or smoking close to your bedtime can disrupt your sleep. Alcohol has a sedating effect. But when it wears off, you may awaken and find resuming sleep difficult.
  • Practice relaxation techniques. Meditation, imagery, and progressive relaxation can lower your stress so you can transition into a more relaxed state as your body prepares for sleep.
  • Remove tech gadgets like laptops, tablets, and smartphones from your bedroom.
  • Refrain from checking your email before retiring for the night.
  • Reduce or eliminate annoying and disturbing noises. A fan or white noise machine can make distracting sounds less noticeable.
  • Keep your bedroom dark and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Don’t drink liquids before going bed or the urge to urinate may wake you up a couple of hours later.
  • Maintain a ritual by going to bed about the same time each night and rising consistently every morning.
  • If you can’t fall asleep after 15-20 minutes, get out of bed, read, or do something else. Then try again after a while.

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