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Sep 08, 2014 04:55 AM EDT

Sleep Deprivation Can Cause Decline in Brain Volume, Study

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Sleep deprivation can trigger a faster rate of decline in brain volume, according to a University of Oxford study. The researchers said that sleep is considered as "the brain's housekeeper" as it repairs and restores the brain.

For the study, the researchers surveyed 147 adults, aged between 20 and 84 years, about sleep habits to determine the relationship between sleep difficulties and brain volume. The survey asked questions related to sleep duration, time taken to fall asleep at night, use of sleeping medications, and other factors. All participants also underwent two MRI brain scans.

About 35 percent of the participants were associated with poor sleep quality, scoring an average of 8.5 out of 21 points on the sleep assessment. The researchers found that sleep difficulties was directly proportional to a rapid decline in brain volume in regions, including within frontal, temporal and parietal areas. The impact was prominent in participants above the age of 60 years.

"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, in a press release. "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 finding is published in Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

A recent study by the University of Oulu and the University of Cambridge found that antipsychotic medication causes slight decrease in brain volume in schizophrenia patients. However, the decrease seem to have no effect on patients' cognitive decline and symptoms.

"We all lose some brain tissue as we get older, but people with schizophrenia lose it at a faster rate. We've shown that this loss seems to be linked to the antipsychotic medication people are taking," professor Juha Veijola said in a press release. "Research like this where patients are studied for many years can help to develop guidelines about when clinicians can reduce the dosage of antipsychotic medication in the long term treatment of people with schizophrenia."

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