If you’re not getting enough sleep at night, you may want to alter your sleep habits. There’s evidence that too little sleep can have multiple effects on the brain. Here’s what you need to know to protect your own health.
Are you not spending enough time in dreamland? If not, you may want to change your sleep habits. The effects of too little sleep on the brain appear to be more significant than previously thought. It’s long been known that too little sleep can cause memory related problems and reduce alertness, but a new study shows it may also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
In a study published in the journal Science, researchers at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis found an association between the effects of too little sleep and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disease characterized by the formation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain. When researchers injected special genetically bred mice with Alzheimer’s disease with a sleep altering compound called orexin, the mice slept fewer hours. When the mice got too little sleep, researchers saw an increase in the rate of amyloid plaque formation and when they blocked the effects of orexin and the mice slept more, amyloid plaque formation slowed down.
Humans, too, secrete orexin, a powerful neuropeptide hormone that plays an important role in wakefulness. Previous studies have shown that beta amyloid plaques increase during the day under the influence of orexin and decrease at night when orexin levels drop. Thus, lack of sleep seems to stimulate beta-amyloid plaque formation through the power of orexin. Researchers are hoping that it’s possible to develop a treatment that blocks the effects of orexin to treat Alzheimer’s disease and other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy.
The effects of too little sleep can also have short-term effects on brain health. Studies have shown lack of sleep affects working memory and increases the time it takes to perform certain tasks. Too little sleep is particularly bad when it comes to performing higher levels thinking tasks. It also decreases alertness which makes it harder to learn new tasks. In rats, it’s been shown that lack of sleep affects their ability to form new nerve cells – a situation not conducive to learning.
The bottom line? The effects of too little sleep on the brain adds to a growing body of knowledge about the importance of sleep for good health. Studies have shown that sleeping less than six hours a night increases the risk of heart disease, hypertension, and certain types of cancer. While you may think you’ll get more done by staying awake at night, chances are you’ll pay for it the next day with decreased productivity. So, do yourself a favor and get some rest.