A study that was carried out by the University of Toronto, Canada, has found a correlation between sleep fragmentation and brain damage. Some changes in sleeping habits are caused by medical or psychiatric conditions. However, most changes are part of normal aging. When people age, their circadian rhythm changes. Elderly people tend to become sleepy in the early evening and wake up earlier in the morning. Problems tend to appear when sleep quality decreases. Sleep fragmentation is a condition in which people wake up several times at night. In this study, researchers looked for an association between sleep fragmentation, microscopic blood vessel damage and infarcts in the brains of autopsied subjects.
The team examined the brains of 315 elderly people, with an average age of 90 years. 30% of subjects were male. Patients were monitored around the clock for at least one week. Sleep quality was qualified using this method. It appeared that sleep was interrupted 7 times per hour on average. 29% of the subjects had suffered a stroke and 61% had signs of vessel injury in the brain.
It was found that people with greater sleep fragmentation had a 27% higher risk of having severe atherosclerosis. For every two sleep interruptions per hour, the risk of visible signs of hypoxia in the brain increased by 30%. Researchers have adjusted their findings for other cardiovascular risk factors, such as BMI, smoking habits and hypertension.
These findings suggest that there is an association between sleep fragmentation and brain damage. Further research is needed to identify if sleep fragmentation is a cause or a consequence of brain damage.
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