Scientists have found a link between poor sleep and lowered brain volume.
For the study, a team of researchers led by Dr Linda L Chao from the University of California, San Francisco, included 144 Gulf War Veterans. Participants provided information about their sleep patterns - their bedtime and the difficulties they experienced to fall asleep - for a one month period.
On scanning the brains with the help of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), researchers found that people with disrupted sleep had less frontal lobe gray matter than the others. Frontal lobe, one of main lobes of the cerebral cortex, contains dopamine-sensitive neurons that regulate short-term memory, planning, motivation, attention and reward.
"People discount the importance of sleep. So many things seem so much more important than a few extra hours of sleep a night," lead author Dr Chao told Reuters Health. "The study suggests that we shouldn't discount sleep importance."
Apart from these sleep problems; a significant number of the participants had abused alcohol (50 percent), experienced major depressive disorder (40 percent) and post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD (18 percent).
However, the researchers couldn't prove whether sleep disturbances caused by a reduction in brain volume or a decrease in brain volume led to poor sleep. "We only know there's a relationship," Michael Breus, an Arizona clinical psychologist who is board-certified in sleep disorders, told Reuters Health. "We don't know which came first."
The importance of getting a good night's sleep is well-known. Sound sleep has a crucial role in the mental, physical and emotional health of adults and children. Previous studies have shown that short sleep durations increased the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart problems, depression and affected memory and concentration.
Following are some tips from NHS choices, UK that help to improve sleep quality:
- Fix a regular bedtime.
- Create an environment suitable for sleep, by keeping the bedroom dark, quiet and at a pleasant temperature.
- Spare a few minutes for regular exercise.
- Limit caffeine intake.
- Avoid smoking before going to bed.
- Avoid excess consumption of food or alcohol at night.
- Try out some relaxing techniques including music or simple yoga exercises before bed.
(Edited by Anu James)