Sleep Difficulties Linked To Shrinking Brain

Dr. Claire Sexton Ph.D. University of Interview with:
Dr. Claire Sexton Ph.D.
University of Oxford

Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Sexton: We found that sleep difficulties (which can include trouble falling asleep, waking up during the night, or waking up too early) were associated with an increased rate of decline in brain volumes over 3-5 years.

Medical Research: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Sexton: Previous studies have linked a diagnosis of insomnia to reduced performance in cognitive tests and reduced brain volumes in certain regions, so our results weren’t completely unexpected. However, it was striking to find that sleep quality was associated with increased rate of decline in brain volumes across widespread brain regions in community-dwelling adults.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Sexton:  Previous studies have linked a number of factors with an increased rate of decline in brain volumes, such as physical inactivity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Our research indicates that sleep is also an important factor that needs to be examined in more detail in future studies. Since there are a number of effective treatments for sleep disorders, it could be an exciting avenue through which to promote brain health, but more research needs to be done to determine if poor sleep is a cause or consequence of increased decline in brain volumes.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Sexton:  In future, it will be important to examine if improving sleep quality can help slow rates of decline in brain volume.


Poor sleep quality is associated with increased cortical atrophy in community-dwelling adults
Sexton CE1, Storsve AB2, Walhovd KB2, Johansen-Berg H2, Fjell AM2.
Neurology. 2014 Sep 3. pii: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000000774. [Epub ahead of print]

Last Updated on September 8, 2014 by Marie Benz MD FAAD