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Study: Total sleep deprivation increases brain age prediction reversibly in healthy young adults

Original Research By: Congying Chu, Sebastian C. Holst, Eva-Maria Elmenhorst, Anna L. Foerges, Changhong Li, Denise Lange, Eva Hennecke, Diego M. Baur, Simone Beer, Felix Hoffstaedter, Gitte Moos Knudsen, Daniel Aeschbach, Andreas Bauer, Hans-Peter Landolt and David Elmenhorst

Summarized By: Neurobit

According to recent research done by Congying Chu and colleagues (2023), sleep loss can have a pervasive effect on the human brain at multiple levels. Furthermore, age-related changes in sleep characteristics indicate that reduced sleep quality is a common characteristic of aging. However, it is still unclear whether sleep disruption can accelerate the aging process and how changes in sleep conditions can affect the brain's age status. To address this question, a team of researchers used an approach of brain age to investigate whether sleep loss causes age-related changes in the brain.

The study included MRI data of 134 healthy volunteers from five datasets with different sleep conditions. The participants had a mean chronological age of 25.3, and they were between 19 and 39 years old, with 42 females and 92 males. Across three datasets with total sleep deprivation, the researchers consistently observed that sleep loss increased brain age by 1-2 years regarding the group mean difference with the baseline. However, interestingly, after one night of recovery sleep, brain age was not different from the baseline.

The researchers also demonstrated the associations between the change in brain age after total sleep deprivation and the sleep variables measured during the recovery night. By contrast, brain age was not significantly changed by either acute or chronic partial sleep restriction. Taken together, the findings indicate that acute total sleep loss changes brain morphology in an aging-like direction in young participants, and these changes are reversible by recovery sleep.

The study provides new evidence to explain the brain-wide effect of sleep loss in an aging-like direction. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of sleep for maintaining normal physical and psychological functions. Sleep deprivation can cause changes in the brain that resemble those of aging, but recovery sleep can reverse these changes. The study suggests that adequate sleep is essential for maintaining healthy brain function and preventing age-related changes in the brain.


Chu, C., Holst, S. C., Elmenhorst, E. M., Foerges, A. L., Li, C., Lange, D., Hennecke, E., Baur, D. M., Beer, S., Hoffstaedter, F., Knudsen, G. M., Aeschbach, D., Bauer, A., Landolt, H. P., & Elmenhorst, D. (2023). Total sleep deprivation increases brain age prediction reversibly in multi-site samples of young healthy adults. Journal of Neuroscience. Advance online publication.

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