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Studying the effects of poor sleep on the brain

The costs of poor sleep are high – impaired memory, lack of good judgement, and a high risk of stroke or obesity, among others. But new studies are beginning to show just how complex the effects of sleep are when it comes to physical and mental health.

Several studies examining how sleep affects the brain were presented at Neuroscience 2017, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

One study uncovered three species of spiders with accelerated circadian rhythms. The discovery has raised new questions about how the spiders can avoid negative health effects due to poor sleep, according to Dr. Darrell Moore of East Tennessee State University, who led the research.

A study of microRNA expression found that it can indicate when someone has a history of poor sleep in both humans and rats. The discovery by Dr. Seema Bhatnagar of the University of Pennsylvania found that it could provide a method for predicting when poor sleepers are at risk for diseases or cognitive deficits connected with sleep loss.

A third study led by Dr. Roy Cox, a postdoctoral research fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, found that the brain reactivates negative, emotional memories during sleep.

Additional research found that brain activity during sleep can be analyzed to determine whether people looked at photos of people or houses before drifting off.

“Sleep is even more multifaceted and fascinating than we realize,” Dr. Sigrid Veasey of the University of Pennsylvania said in a press release. “Today’s findings reveal interesting new aspects of the complex relationship between sleep and the brain, and the vital role that sleep plays in everyday human functioning.”

The new studies add to a growing body of research about the effects of poor sleep. Neuroscientists have found in the past that adequate sleep is essential for good health, and it can improve memory and cognitive function. Poor sleep is connected to memory problems, impaired judgement, and cardiovascular disease, along with stroke and obesity.

The new research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and other organizations.

By Kyla Cathey, staff writer

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