The Dangers of Too Little Sleep

The Dangers of Too Little Sleep

Try not to lose sleep over the results of the latest sleep studies. Those lost hours of rest could lead to a variety of health issues, according to recent research – the common cold, depression, even heart disease or Parkinson’s.

Insomnia may cause alarming changes in the brain.

The findings of a recent study published in Radiology link chronic sleeplessness to alarming changes in the brain. Researchers in China used an advanced MRI technique to compare the brains of 23 people suffering from insomnia with the brains of 30 people with normal sleep patterns.

The images allowed them to analyze the brain’s white matter tracts. “White matter tracts are bundles of axons–or long fibers of nerve cells–that connect one part of the brain to another,” study author Shumei Li said in a news release. “If white matter tracts are impaired, communication between brain regions is disrupted.”

The scientists found that the insomnia patients had reduced white matter integrity in several right-brain regions and the thalamus. The affected areas control sleep, wakefulness, alertness, cognitive function, and sensorimotor function. The cause of these changes in the white matter may be the loss of myelin, the protective sheath that coats nerve fibers.

Sleep loss may lead to heart disease.

A team of researchers at the University of Helsinki recently discovered that lack of sleep affects the way the human body metabolizes cholesterol. By analyzing small blood samples, they observed that the genes responsible for controlling cholesterol transport were less active in people experiencing sleep loss than in those who got adequate sleep. They also found that people who slept less had fewer high-density HDL lipoproteins (the “good cholesterol” transport proteins) than those who slept sufficiently.

These risk factors may contribute to the higher risk of atherosclerosis (hardening or narrowing of the arteries) and cardiovascular disease in people suffering from sleep deprivation.

Chronic lack of sleep may increase your risk of Parkinson’s disease.

A study published earlier this month in Molecular Psychiatry reveals that chronic sleep loss and irregular sleep-wake cycles may be risk factors of Parkinson’s disease. Researchers from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) examined how disturbances in circadian rhythms affected the development of Parkinson’s in a mouse model of the disease.

The mice were divided into two groups. The first, the control group, was exposed to a normal circadian schedule – 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark each day. The second group was exposed to 20 hours of light and 4 hours of dark. All the mice developed Parkinson’s, but those exposed to the altered circadian schedule experienced significant learning impairments and drastic reductions in motor coordination and motor learning skills – much worse than those observed in the control group.

The findings lend support to the research team’s theory that sleep disorders and disrupted circadian cycles may contribute to the development of Parkinson’s.

Sleeping fewer than 5 hours may increase your risk of cold and other infections.

People who sleep no more than five hours each night may be at higher risk of suffering from a cold or other infection than those sleeping more, according to a study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Surveys of 22,000 Americans showed that 19 percent of those sleeping five hours or fewer each night suffered from a head or chest cold in the last 30 days, compared with 16 percent of those who slept for six hours and 15 percent of those who slept more than seven hours.

Lack of sleep may affect cardiovascular, endocrine and immune functioning, which in turn heightens your risk of disease or infection. In addition, “poor sleep may lead to health behaviors that raise one’s risk for poor heath,” study author Aric Prather told Reuters Health. “Short sleepers are less likely to exercise and more likely to engage in less than ideal nutrition that, again over time, can affect health.”

Insomnia may lead to depression.

Insomnia may increase your risk of depression by impairing your ability to regulate emotions. Published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the study surveyed 880 current and retired United States firefighters between the ages of 18 and 82 years. 52.7 percent of participants reported insomnia symptoms, while 39.6 reported suffering from depression.

Analysis of the firefighters’ survey responses revealed that emotional regulation difficulties had a significant impact on the relationship between insomnia and depression. These difficulties included a lack of problem-solving skills and the inability to control negative emotions.

“Our study findings suggest that firefighters with sleep difficulties are likely to experience greater struggles accessing strategies to regulate their emotions, especially when feeling upset. This, in turn, may lead to or worsen feelings of depression and low mood,” said lead author Melanie Hom said in a news release. “These results are important because they provide a plausible explanation for why and how sleep problems may contribute to depression, which are critical questions for prevention and intervention.”

Article sources:

Aho, Vilma. “Prolonged sleep restriction induces changes in pathways involved in cholesterol metabolism and inflammatory responses.” Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 24828 (2016), doi:10.1038/srep24828.

Doyle, Kathryn. “Short Sleep May Be Tied to Cold or Infection Risk.” Reuters.com.

Hom, Melanie A. “The association between sleep disturbances and depression among firefighters: emotion dysregulation as an explanatory factor.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, http://dx.doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.5492.

Lauretti, E. “Circadian rhythm dysfunction: a novel environmental risk factor for Parkinson’s disease.” Molecular Psychiatry, 5 April 2016, doi:10.1038/mp.2016.47

Li, Shumei. “Reduced Integrity of Right Lateralized White Matter in Patients with Primary Insomnia: A Diffusion-Tensor Imaging Study.” Radiology, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1148/radiol.2016152038.

Prather, Aric A. “Association of insufficient sleep with respiratory infection among adults in the United States.” JAMA Intern Med. Published online 11 April 2016, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.0787.

News release, American Academy of Sleep Medicine

News release, Radiological Society of North America

News release, Temple University Health System

News release, University of Helsinki

 

 

 

 

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