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Study Ties Sleep Problems to Decline in Brain Volume

First Posted: Sep 06, 2014 06:33 AM EDT
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In a new study, researchers highlighted an association between sleep problems and decline in brain volume.

The latest study by the American Academy of Neurology states that sleep difficulties trigger decline in brain volume. Several reports have proposed sleep as the housekeeper of the brain that serves to repair and restore it. 

The researchers based their finding on the evaluation of 147 adults aged between 20-84 years. They looked at the link between sleep problems like trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night and the brain volume. To investigate the association, the participants underwent MRI brain scans. The scans were done on an average of 3.5 years apart. Prior to undergoing the scans, the participants were made to complete questionnaire that enquired about their sleep habits.

The researchers noted that 35 percent of the participants had met the criteria for poor sleep quality and scored on an average of 8.5 points out of 21 on sleep assessment.

Using the assessment, the researchers looked at the duration they slept for, the time they took to fall asleep at night, whether or not they used medication for sleeping and other related factors.

"It is not yet known whether poor sleep quality is a cause or consequence of changes in brain structure," said study author Claire E. Sexton, DPhil, with 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."

"It is not yet known whether poor sleep quality is a cause or consequence of changes in brain structure," said study author Claire E. Sexton, DPhil, with 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."

The link between sleep problems and drop in brain volume was more evident in adults above the age of 60 years.

The study was documented in the journal Neurology.  

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