Restless Sleep Shrinks Brain, Claims A New Study

Restless sleep seems to be commonplace for the average American.

Working longer hours at your job, or piecing together several part-time jobs to make a full-time living, can leave you wondering if rest will ever come. If it does, you’re not sure how much of it you’ll get to enjoy.

According to a new study emanating from the University of Oxford in England, it’s important that we get restless sleep under control now because it can lead to brain shrinkage.

CBS News reports that researchers from the University determined that faster deterioration of three parts of the brain was seen in mostly older adults who had poor sleep quality, though not necessarily too little sleep.

“Sleep difficulties included having trouble falling asleep, waking up during the night or waking up too early,” researchers claimed.

“We spend roughly a third of our lives asleep, and sleep has been proposed to be ‘the brain’s housekeeper,’ serving to restore and repair the brain,” said lead researcher Claire Sexton, a postdoctoral research assistant at the school. “It follows that if sleep is disrupted, then processes that help restore and repair the brain are interrupted and may be less effective, leading to greater rates of decline in brain volume.”

Just as likely, Sexton noted, is that deterioration of the brain can lead to a chicken-and-egg type scenario where it becomes more difficult to sleep. From there, the two feed on each other.

“It may be that greater rates of decline in brain volumes make it more difficult for a person to get a good night’s sleep,” said Sexton, who subscribes to the theory that the problem is “a little bit of both.”

Sexton and her fellow researchers visited a research fellow at the University of Oslo, Norway. It was here that they administered brain scans to 147 Norwegian adults, with an average age of 54. A second scan was given 3.5 years later, the news site noted.

During the second scan, the participants filled out questionnaires on sleep quality, including time slept as well as the level of restless sleep (none to severe). These questions shed light on the length of time it took to fall asleep, how many times per night they woke up, how tired they were during the workday, and how many, if any, sleep medications were used.

“Participants took an average of 20 minutes to fall asleep and slept an average of seven hours a night,” researchers claimed.

After examining weight, blood pressure, and level of physical activity, comparisons were made to the brain scans, resulting in the conclusions first reported in the September 3 edition of Neurology.

If you’re hoping to buck the trend of restless sleep, Sexton advises that you keep gadgets away from your bedside at night. Being more physically active throughout the day, establishing healthy bedtime routines, talking to your doctor about any possible treatments, and not checking email, can also help.

What about you, readers? Do you suffer from restless sleep?

[Image via ShutterStock]