New research shows getting less sleep can age the brain faster. For every hour of reduced sleep duration, the researchers found an incremental annual expansion of the brain ventricles and an annual incremental decline in global cognitive performance.
“Though faster brain ventricle enlargement is a marker for cognitive decline and the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s,” the researchers say, “the effects of sleep on this marker have never been measured.”
The findings were based on a 10-year-long study of 66 older Chinese adults aged 55 years and above. By looking into their structural MRI brain scans, which measure brain volume and neuropsychological assessments, and factoring in the hours of sleep they recorded, the researchers found that those who slept fewer hours showed evidence of faster ventricle enlargement and decline in cognitive performance.
“Our findings relate short sleep to a marker of brain aging,” said Dr June Lo, the lead author and a Duke-NUS Research Fellow.
The study released on Tuesday (July 1) by the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore concluded, inflammatory effects were ruled out by the Duke-NUS authors: “In healthy older adults, short sleep duration is associated with greater age-related brain atrophy and cognitive decline. These associations are not associated with elevated inflammatory responses among short sleepers.”
Other studies have suggested that adults need about seven hours of sleep a night to maintain proper brain function; future research will investigate how sleep helps to preserve cognitive functions and hold off more rapid aging.
The finding was documented in the journal SLEEP.
This research comes just days after a separate study found that too much sleep in middle age can be as bad for you as not getting enough shut eye.