The brain changes are tied to increased risks of strokes and other
problems like dementia, the researchers say.
While the study itself is not conclusive, it adds to a growing body
of evidence showing that "good quality sleep is important especially
when people get older," said lead author Dr. Andrew Lim, of the
University of Toronto in Canada.
He and his colleagues report in the journal Stroke that waking up
several times during the night - known as sleep fragmentation - is
tied to subtle changes in the brain that often can only be confirmed
The new study involved 315 people who had worn activity-tracking
monitors at least once while they were alive. The tracker also
monitored their sleep. When the people died, at an average age of
90, the researchers were able to study their brains.
Nearly a third of the brains showed evidence of strokes, and nearly
two-thirds had at least one area of moderate to severe damage to
The more severe the person's sleep fragmentation was, the greater
was their risk of hardening of the small arteries in their brains.
The risk of having brain tissue killed in small strokes due to lack
of oxygen also increased as sleep fragmentation worsened.
It's possible, Lim said, that "repeated waking during the night
could lead to a rise in blood pressure" that could damage the blood
vessels. Also, he said, conditions like sleep apnea may play a role
in keeping oxygen from the brain.
Lim cautioned that the new study cannot tell whether sleep problems
caused the brain damage, or the brain damage caused the sleep
problems, or whether something else is to blame.
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Regardless, he and his colleagues write, these changes in the brain
are tied to strokes and worsening problems with thinking and body
"At this point in time we donít have hard evidence that treating
sleep fragmentation is going to make a big difference," Lim said.
"We have to take a deeper look at what causes - and aspects - of
sleep fragmentation are most strongly associated with this type of
brain damage," he said.
"I think the take-home point is that this is another reason why
people ought to take care of their sleep as they get older," Lim
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1P3hVlP Stroke, online January 14, 2016.
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