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Schizophrenia linked to sleep abnormality: Study

By Ryan Maass
Schizophrenia linked to sleep abnormality: Study
Healthier people were found to have higher levels of sleep spindle activity than people with schizophrenia. Photo by Wokandapix/Pixabay

BOSTON, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- A sleep abnormality likely plays a role in the onset of schizophrenia, researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center suggest in a new study.

In the study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, investigators sought to develop a better understanding of the genetics that regulate individual sleep patterns, and how they relate to psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. The research team says the mental ailment can be traced to sleep spindle activity in the brain.

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"One of the most exciting advances in sleep research over the last decade has been the growing understanding of sleep's causal relationship to psychiatric disorders," senior author Robert Stickgold said in a press release. "Here, we reviewed the evidence that reduced sleep spindle activity predates the onset of schizophrenia and contributes to its cognitive deficits and other symptoms."

To test their hypothesis, Stickgold and his team examined a host of studies which linked spindle activity with cognitive functions associated with schizophrenia, which includes poor motor memory and learning in addition to lower IQ. Healthy people, the researchers found, have higher spindle activity, suggesting a lull in their performance may be linked to psychiatric disorders.

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"It makes sense that if you have a deficit in these spindles, you'll also have a deficit in these cognitive functions," Stickgold explained. "But it wasn't known if reduced sleep spindle activity was a basic feature of schizophrenia or a side effect of living with it and taking medications for a decade or longer."

Stickgold went on to add that while individuals with depressed sleep spindle activity may not have schizophrenia themselves, they share half of their genes with someone who does. The research team says their findings may link spindle activity to a broader range of mental ailments.

"t's becoming increasingly clear that sleep not only controls memory and emotional processing in all of us, but that deficits in sleep probably contribute to a wide range of psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, ADHD, bipolar disorder, PTSD and depression," Stickgold added. "Now we can begin tracing it all the way from the genes to the disorders themselves."

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