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Half a night sleep loss affects brain

Oct. 16, 2012 at 5:25 PM

NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 16 (UPI) -- Loss of less than half a night's sleep can impair memory and alter the normal behavior of brain cells, U.S. researchers say.

A series of studies presented at Neuroscience 2012, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, in New Orleans, highlighted the important role sleep plays.

One-in-5 U.S. adults show signs of chronic sleep deprivation, making the condition a widespread public health problem related to health issues such as obesity, cardiovascular problems and memory problems.

Other studies presented included:

-- Sleepiness disrupts the coordinated activity of an important network of brain regions; the impaired function of this network is also implicated in Alzheimer's disease.

-- Sleeplessness plays havoc with communication between the hippocampus, which is vital for memory and the brain's "default mode network."

-- In a mouse model, fearful memories could be intentionally weakened during sleep, indicating new possibilities for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"As these research findings show, we cannot underestimate the importance of a good night's sleep," Dr. Clifford Saper of the Harvard Medical School and an expert on sleep and its deprivation, said in a statement. "Brain imaging and behavioral studies are illuminating the brain pathways that are blocked or contorted by sleep deprivation, and the risks this poses to learning, memory and mental health."