Could sleep disturbances be a cause of schizophrenia?
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Could sleep disturbances be a cause of schizophrenia?

Avonbridge : United Kingdom | Nov 15, 2012 at 8:05 AM PST
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Continued sleep disturbances might be a cause of schizophrenia

Previous research has shown that sleep disturabances can cause some psychological disturbances such as schizophrenia, incited researchers to examine the impact of irregular sleep patterns on the brain by recording electrical brain activity in numerous brain regions during sleep.

View slideshow: Sleep disorders

Lack of sleep especially on a long-term basis is linked with long-term health consequences including long-term chronic health conditions. In extreme cases lack of sleep long-term has people suffering from sleep deprivation which can cause hallucinations, memory loss and confusion all of which are symptoms of schizophrenia. The effects of sleep deprivation on behavior have been tested with relation to the presence of activity in different sections of the cerebral cortex.

In this new study from researchers at University of Bristol, the Lilly Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience, led by Dr. Matt Jones, BA, PhD, from the University's School of Physiology and Pharmacology, MRC, Senior, Non-clinical Fellow, used EEG, local field potential (LFP) and unit recording in rats, the researchers showed desynchronisation of the waves of activity which normally travel from the front to the back of the brain during deep sleep. In particular the information flow between the hippocampus (part of the brain that is involved in memory forming, organizing, and storing) and the frontal cortex (responsible for personality, behavior, and problem solving) appeared to be disturbed. Researchers reported distinct irregular sleep patterns very similar to those observed in schizophrenia patients.

"Decoupling of brain regions involved in memory formation and decision-making during wakefulness are already implicated in schizophrenia, but decoupling during sleep provides a new mechanistic explanation for the cognitive deficits observed in both the animal model and patients: sleep disturbances might be a cause, not just a consequence of schizophrenia. In fact, abnormal sleep patterns may trigger abnormal brain activity in a range of conditions,” said Dr. Jones in a statement.

The findings from this study provide new angles for neurocognitive therapy in schizophrenia and related psychiatric diseases.

The findings of this study appear in the journal Neuron. Funding for this study was provided by the Medical Research Council (MRC).

Psychologist and associate professor of the University of California, Berkley, Matthew Walker , in research from his lab conducted by his team and in collaboration with Harvard Medical School researchers had shown that lack of sleep is causing some psychological disturbances.

In his study 26 healthy students aged 24 to 31 participated in which they either had stayed awake or had gotten a good night’s sleep.

Among the students 14 of them remained awake for 35 hours straight before getting any sleep before going into MRI scanners where their brains were observed while looking at a set of 100 photos that became increasingly disturbing as they progressed.

The early photos were of an empty wicker basket on a table, and then the photos had changed as the series progressed to more shocking settings such as a tarantula on a person's shoulder and finally pictures of burn victims and other traumatic portraits.

Researchers primarily monitored the amygdala (seems to respond to severe traumas with an un-erasable fear response). Both sets of volunteers had similar baseline activity when shown harmless images such as the basket. When the scenes became more horrific the amygdalae of the sleep-deprived participants kicked up, showing 60 percent more activity relative to the normal population's response. Researchers also witnessed five more times of neurons in the area were transmitting impulses in the sleep-deprived brains.

Dr. Robert Stickgold, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and who was not involved with the study commented to Scientific America, There seems to be a causal relationship between impaired sleep and some of the psychiatric symptomatology and disorders that we're seeing.’ He notes that research has linked sleep apnea to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The 2007 study was published in Current Biology.

It appears that sleep disturbances on a long-term basis can have detrimental effects not only on your physical health but mental health as well.

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Debbie Nicholson is based in Detroit, Michigan, United States of America, and is an Anchor for Allvoices.
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