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Sleep Deprivation Could Damage Brain Tissue, Study Suggests

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Jan 01, 2014 06:08 PM EST
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Staying up all night in college to study for an exam, and then catching up on sleep the next day, is a commonplace occurrence. However, as we age, this ability to recoup lost sleep diminishes. (Photo : CarbonNYC/ Flickr creative commons )

New research published in the journal SLEEP suggests that even one night of sleep deprivation could result in a loss of brain tissue.

Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden found that in young, sleep-deprived men, there are higher blood concentrations of the molecules NSE and S-100B. These two molecules are typically found in the brain, so finding high blood concentrations of the molecules after sleep loss "may indicate that a lack of snoozing might be conducive to a loss of brain tissue," Uppsala University wrote in a statement.

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For the study, the researchers tested 15 healthy, normal-weight men in their early 20s.

Prior to the study the men were interviewed to confirm that they kept typical sleep patterns in their regular routine, such as getting around eight hours of sleep per night and going to bed by 11:30 p.m. on a work night and waking up no later than 7:30 a.m. on a working day.

In one condition of the experiment, the men were were deprived of sleep for one night. The following morning the researchers examined their blood. In another condition, the men were allowed to sleep approximately eight hours before the blood test.

"We observed that a night of total sleep loss was followed by increased blood concentrations of NSE and S-100B. These brain molecules typically rise in blood under conditions of brain damage. Thus, our results indicate that a lack of sleep may promote neurodegenerative processes," said Christian Benedict, the leader of the study.

Benedict is a sleep researcher at Uppsala University's Department of Neuroscience.

"In conclusion, the findings of our trial indicate that a good night's sleep may be critical for maintaining brain health," Benedict said.

The study was funded by the Swedish Brain Foundation and Novo Nordisk Foundation.

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