Going sleepless for just one night can make your brain look years older, finds a study.

The study appearing in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that sleep deprivation for one night increased brain age by one-two years.

Importantly, the study showed that the changes are reversible after a good night's sleep, said an international team of researchers including from RWTH Aachen University in Germany.

They also found no significant change in brain age after partial sleep deprivation.

"Acute total sleep loss changes brain morphology in an ageing-like direction in young participants and that these changes are reversible by recovery sleep," said Eva-Maria Elmenhorst, from the varsity.

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"Our study provided new evidence to explain the brain-wide effect of sleep loss in an ageing-like direction," Elmenhorst added.

Sleep loss pervasively affects the human brain at multiple levels. Age-related changes in several sleep characteristics indicate that reduced sleep quality is a frequent characteristic of ageing.

Conversely, sleep disruption may accelerate the ageing process, yet it is not known what will happen to the age status of the brain if we can manipulate the sleep conditions.

To understand, the team employed an approach of brain age to investigate whether sleep loss would cause age-related changes in the brain.

They included MRI data of 134 healthy volunteers between the age of 19 and 39.


In the case of total sleep deprivation (of more than 24 hours of prolonged wakefulness), they consistently observed that total sleep deprivation increased brain age by one-two years.

Interestingly, after one night of recovery sleep, brain age was not different from baseline, the team explained.

Further, the study found that brain age was not significantly changed by either acute (3 hours' time-in-bed for 1 night) or chronic partial sleep restriction (5 hours' time-in-bed for 5 continuous nights).

(With inputs from IANS)