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Study results show a link between sleep quality and brain shrinkage.

A new study recently published in Neurology shows that quality of sleep may have an effect on the speed at which the human brain shrinks. According to an article in the Huffington Post, the study found an associative relationship, meaning it did not determine if a shrinking brain leads to reduced sleep quality, or if sleep could be affecting brain health by causing the brain to shrink. It is possible that a combination of the factors is responsible for the phenomenon. 

The study, led by Claire Sexton, DPhil, at the University of Oxford, looks at the brain scans of 147 adults aged between 20 and 84. Each participant had two scans, separated by approximately 3.5 years in between. The study results indicate that the temporal, frontal and parietal sections of the brain shrank faster in individuals that experienced poor sleep quality. 

Sexton tells the Huffington Post in an email that, "Many factors have previously been linked with the rate of change in brain volume over time — including physical activity, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Our study indicates that sleep is also an important factor."

Although sleep was the primary factor examined in this study, it was the quality and not the quantity of the sleep that was determined to be linked to the brain changes, according to CBS News.

Some of the factors that affect sleep quality are waking up too early, waking up during the night and having trouble falling asleep. Having to take sleeping pills and how much time was actually spent sleeping were additional factors noted in the survey. It was found that 35 percent of the participants experienced poor quality of sleep. 

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