September 4, 2014 5:38 pm
Updated: November 25, 2014 11:26 am

Insomnia may be linked to shrinking brains: study

Watch above: Dr. Samir Gupta explains the insomnia study and gives tips to fight sleep deprivation. 

TORONTO – Have trouble falling asleep? Your brain might be shrinking, according to a new study published in the journal Neurology.

Oxford University researchers found poor sleep quality was associated with reduced volume in the brain.

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Global News

The researchers measured the sleep quality of 147 adults between the ages of 39 and 69 using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality index – a self-administered test about sleep habits.

“They administered a questionnaire that tried to get at the quality of their sleep,” Global News medical contributor Dr. Samir Gupta said. “Things like how much sleep on average they were getting, whether they were waking up in the middle of the night.”

They also gave each participant two MRIs three to six years apart and found there was an association between brain atrophy and trouble sleeping in individuals over the age of 60.

The researchers weren’t able to conclude however if the poor sleep quality caused the brain atrophy or vice-versa.

“We know that there’s an association between brain atrophy and poor sleep but we don’t actually know the direction of that association,” Gupta said.

Five ways to tackle insomnia

1. Keep a regular schedule

Gupta suggests people who struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep should improve their “sleep hygiene.”

“[Sleep Hygiene] has to do with your habits around sleep,” Gupta said. “It means going to bed at the same time every night, waking up at the same time every morning, avoiding naps, avoiding caffeine after noon [and] making sure the bedroom is dark and noiseless.”

2. Only use the bed for sleeping

As tempting as it may be to read, eat, sleep, watch TV, or do pretty much anything in bed, avoid these activities and go to bed when you’re sleepy and ready to sleep.

3. Exercise

About 20 minutes of exercise each day can improve the quality of sleep if it’s done at least four hours prior to sleeping, Gupta said.

4. Don’t drink before bed

Though alcohol can help you fall asleep – it won’t help you stay that way.

“It also disrupts the architecture of sleep and makes people wake up sooner, so it’s something you want avoid after midday,” Gupta said.

5. Use sleeping aids – if nothing else works

If nothing else works, Gupta suggests trying sleeping aids including benzodiazepines or other sedatives. Sleeping aids do carry the risk of side effects however and Gupta suggests consulting a doctor before using.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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