Article Review: Sleep Disturbance Induces Neuroinflammation and Impairment of Learning and Memory

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

Article Review By: Kristy Snyder Colling, Ph.D. and Robert Coben, Ph.D.

Pak, V., Onen, S. Bliwise, D., Kutner, N., Russell, K., & Onen, F. (2020). Sleep disturbances in MCI and AD: Neuroinflammation as possible mediating pathways. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience Zhu, B., Dong, Y., Xu, Z., Gompf, H., Ward, S., Xue, Z., Miao, C., Zhang, Y., Chamberlin, N., & Xie, Z. (2012). Sleep disturbance induces neuroinflammation and impairment of learning and memory. Neurobiological Disorders 58, 348-355.

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It is well-known that sleep deprivation has adverse effects on cognition and memory. In an animal model of sleep deprivation, Zhu et al., (2012) found that sleep deprivation caused the activation of microglia. Microglia are a central part of the brain’s immune response that is triggered when it senses an insult. It acts by releasing cytokine, which initiates inflammation. They found that the site of the inflammation response was the hippocampus, which plays a major role in memory. Importantly, the adverse effects were found to be present with just 24- hours of sleep disturbance.

While brain fog following a single night with little to no sleep can be disruptive, prolonged sleep deprivation can cause long-term damage and has been linked to cognitive impairment seen in dementia and in Alzheimer’s disease (Pak et al., 2020). In addition to increasing the release of inflammatory factors, sleep deprivation has been associated with a reduction of melatonin, which has an anti-inflammatory role. Moreover, it is thought that sleep fragmentation can reduce the integrity of the blood brain barrier. The increased permeability leaves the brain, specifically the hippocampus, more susceptible to neural inflammation. Indeed, elevated levels of cytokine in the blood in midlife has been shown to predict cognitive decline 10 years later. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to the insufficient clearance of proteins and waste materials that are linked to Alzheimer’s. In fact, one study found that increased daytime sleepiness, sleep inadequacy, and number of nocturnal awakenings was associated with increased likelihood of developing dementia in a group of participants over 65 years old.

With the possible repercussions of sleep deprivation as discussed here, it goes without saying that it is important to get quality, restorative sleep. One facet of our health coaching program centers on healthy sleep habits. Indeed, there are many things that can be done to encourage good sleep hygiene. One strategy is to help your body wind down from the day by giving yourself curfews for activities that can interfere with your sleep. For example, limit caffeine 5 hours before bed, alcohol 3 hours before bed, work and serious conversations 2 hours before bed, and screen time/blue light 1 hour before bed. In the last hour before bed, create a bedtime ritual that reduces stimulation and cell phone usage. Make sure your bedroom is visually calming, free from clutter, and cool (i.e., 68 degrees). And, importantly, set yourself a bedtime that allows you to get 8 hours of sleep. For more information on how to create healthy habits for lifelong wellness, please contact us and ask about our Head-on program.

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