Sleep deprivation is linked to brain aging: new study


March 1, 2023 | 12:12 p.m

This is your brain on sleep deprivation.

A lack of shut-eye can lead to visible aging of the cerebrum, according to a new study – giving a whole new meaning to beauty sleep.

Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers observed that a night of complete sleep deprivation in some cases caused significant changes in brain structure, making it look 1 to 2 years older.

Researchers in Germany studied 134 healthy volunteers – between the ages of 19 and 39 – and analyzed their MRI data according to different sleep states from five categories of sleep conditions.

The conditions the researchers assessed were: total sleep deprivation (more than 24 hours of prolonged wakefulness), partial deprivation (three hours in bed for one night) and chronic deprivation (five hours in bed each night for five nights).

There are even more reasons to get a full night’s sleep.
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The study also included a control group that slept eight hours a night.

Each group had at least one night of “baseline sleep” where they spent eight hours in bed. All participants were given an MRI after each sleep, to compare how their brains looked before and after sleep deprivation, and after sleeping for eight hours.

Compared to baseline sleep, the authors noted that they “consistently” observed total sleep deprivation increased brain age by 1 to 2 years.

However, that does not mean that a few sleepless nights cause irreversible aging. Despite the fact that brain structure appears to age rapidly when starved of rest, the researchers also found that a full night’s sleep after a deprived one appears to reverse the effects.

“Interestingly, after a night of restorative sleep, brain age was not different from baseline,” they wrote.

The CDC recommends a minimum of seven hours of sleep for adults.
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The authors say that although the study indicates that sleepless nights can affect the brain in the short term, research is still needed into the long-term effects of chronic sleep loss.

Many Americans struggle to get enough time in bed, with a 2022 study finding that nearly 50% of adults experience something called “social jet lag” from sleep deprivation caused by bouncing between work and weekend schedules.

Another study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, last year found that a lack of nap time could lead to selfishness. Through three different experiments, they discovered that sleep deprivation can affect how people treat each other.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises American adults to get at least seven hours of sleep per night.

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