Suffering from insomnia not only negatively affects our mood by making us more irritable, but it also has a profound impact on the brain . In fact, several studies have linked sleep problems to disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, and even dementia. Now, some new studies have come to explain the impact that not sleeping the necessary hours and even having a bad night has on the brain.

Insomnia shrinks some areas of the brain

A study by a team of scientists from the University of Oslo and Oxford analyzed the sleeping habits of 147 people between the ages of 20 and 84. Every three and a half participants underwent MRI so the researchers could monitor the evolution of their brain.

Of the participants, 35% slept very little or had inadequate rest, unable to sleep deep enough to rest. In these people, a decrease in brain size was observed , especially in the frontal, temporal and parietal regions. The negative impact on the brain was also found to be even greater when they were over 60 years old.

Insomnia intoxicates the brain

Another study, conducted at the Autonomous Metropolitan University of Mexico, revealed that insomnia can cause some neurotoxic molecules that normally circulate in the blood to reach the central nervous system and condition the functioning of neurons.

In this case, the experiment was conducted with guinea pigs, promoting periods of sleep deprivation of 10 days. In this regard, neuroscientists observed that during long periods of insomnia, the blood vessels of the blood-brain barrier begin to degrade. The blood-brain barrier is a dense formation of endothelial cells located between the blood vessels and the central nervous system, whose function is to protect the brain from potentially neurotoxic agents.

The lack of sleep causes these blood vessels are not as united as they should, allowing harmful elements from reaching brain tissue . Some of these elements, such as monosodium glutamate, almost ubiquitous in all processed foods, can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause the death of neurons .

Why is good sleep so important to the brain?

For many years we thought that while we were sleeping our brain was limited to resting. Today we know that this is not true. During sleep, especially in the REM sleep phase, the deepest sleep, the brain removes waste substances produced by metabolism.

In fact, it was observed that glial cells create a kind of channels through neurons to allow the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, which carries with it the toxins generated during daytime activities.

The dream also helps free our mind of the memories that we no longer need and subtraction emotional impact to situations we live during the day, and also reorganizes the wealth of information in our memory.

Therefore, it is not so strange or useless that we spend about a third of our lives sleeping. Also, when we don’t sleep well, the next day we wake up tired, we struggle to focus, and we are more irritable.

So now you know: getting a good night’s sleep is critical for brain health and for preventing neurodegenerative diseases that can appear over time.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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