Modern science has linked inadequate sleep to a number of serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and even certain forms of cancer. Now, new research suggests poor sleep may also cause permanent changes in the brain that can result in cognitive impairment and emotional instability.
Reduced White Matter
A restless night can leave us feeling foggy and less alert the following day. According to researchers out of China, however, insomnia may also lead to troubling structural changes within the brain.
Conducted by researchers from Guangdong No. 2 Provincial People’s Hospital, Guangzhou, China, the study included 30 healthy volunteers and 23 patients with primary insomnia. Each subject completed surveys that allowed the researchers to assess their sleep patterns and mental status. They then analyzed each participant’s brain white matter using advanced MRI imaging techniques
Ultimately, the researchers determined the insomniacs had significantly reduced white matter “integrity” in multiple regions of the brain, including the thalamus, which regulates sleep, consciousness and alertness, along with the corpus callosum, which bridges the two halves of the brain.
A Troubling Revelation
Past studies have already linked inadequate sleep to depression, anxiety and even an increased risk of dementia. This recent study heightens concern, especially since poor sleep has become such a prominent issue for so many people.
Poor sleep has become so common in America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have named it a public health epidemic. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to improve your sleep quality. These include targeted lifestyle changes, such as:
- Do not eat close to bedtime.
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine.
- Do not drink alcohol too close to bedtime.
- Get adequate exposure to natural light.
- Avoid cellphones, tablets and television at least an hour before bed, since these emit blue light, which suppresses the body’s production of melatonin.
When to Seek Help
Some people experience unexplained insomnia that does not improve despite their best efforts. For many, this is due to undiscovered sleep apnea, depression or other mental issues. For others, there may be no apparent root cause. If you are suffering from chronic sleep disturbances or insomnia, make an appointment with your physician. These days, there are a number of effective medications and other treatment strategies that can help you get a good night’s sleep.