According to a new study, poor sleep quality is associated with a loss of gray matter in the brain. Although previous studies have suggested a connection between sleep disturbances and gray matter loss in the frontal lobe, this study suggests that the damage may be far more widespread than previously suspected.

Measuring Brain Matter

In the study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at the amount of gray matter in different parts of the brains of 144 Gulf War veterans. They also surveyed the vets about the quality of their sleep using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). Then they ran multiple linear regressions to attempt to determine how subjective sleep quality correlated to brain tissue losses.

They measured total cortical gray matter, lobar gray matter, and hippocampus volume. Reductions were found in the cortical gray matter and frontal lobar gray matter. Several regions within the frontal lobe, several regions were negatively impacted.

The study also highlighted factors that contributed to sleep disturbance among Gulf War vets, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, Gulf War Illness, and using psychotropic medication.

Although researchers said that it was impossible to say that the sleep disturbance caused these brain mass losses, they still noted that this study might account for the cognitive and memory difficulties experienced by people with sleep disturbance. A spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine said, “This study emphasizes the importance of seeking medical help if you are troubled by the poor quality of your sleep.”

Sleep Treatment Can Help

Although this study doesn’t show that treatment of sleep disorders like sleep apnea will have a curative or even preventive effect on brain matter loss, the improvement in subjective symptoms certainly suggests that treatment leads to functional improvement at least. Even if it doesn’t lead to restoring lost brain matter, it may lead to establishing new connections among the brain that can make up for the loss.

If you are troubled by sleep problems that may be sleep apnea, please call (303) 691-0267 at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado in Denver today for an appointment.