Sleep-Deprived People Have Shrinking Brains

Photo: Corbis

If you have ever felt markedly stupider after a long period of sleep deprivation, a new study may hint at a reason. Years of sleep difficulties seem to be associated with a brain that shrinks in size over time, according to a new paper published online today in Neurology.

Via the press release:

Researchers examined the link between sleep difficulties, such as having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, and brain volume. All participants underwent two MRI brain scans, an average of 3.5 years apart, before completing a questionnaire about their sleep habits. ... The study found that sleep difficulties were linked with a more rapid decline in brain volume over the course of the study in widespread brain regions, including within frontal, temporal and parietal areas.

It’s not clear from this study whether sleep problems cause the loss in brain volume; it could very well be the other way around — that a shrinking brain results in sleep difficulties. Either way, it’s bad news for the owner of the increasingly smaller brain, as loss of brain volume has been linked to cognitive decline. Now, try not to let this keep your poor (tiny) mind up at night.