Just One Night Of Poor Sleep Can Harm Your Brain


We’re all aware of the perks that come with getting a solid night’s sleep, but who knew that just one bout of restlessness could cause so much harm?

That’s the premise of a new study and joint effort from researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Radboud University Medical Centre in the Netherlands and Stanford University. Together, they found that just one night of disrupted sleep in middle-aged adults can lead to the increased production of amyloid beta, a protein in the brain that’s associated with Alzheimer’s disease. And if you rack up a week’s worth of restlessness, you might increase your production of tau, another brain protein that’s linked to brain damage in Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases.

Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than 5 million Americans, is characterized by gradual memory loss and cognitive decline. Amyloid beta protein and tau protein plaques cause brain tissue to atrophy and die, and the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease exhibit an excess of these proteins.


In the study, the researchers monitored the sleep habits of 17 healthy adults between the ages of 35 and 65 using activity monitors over the course of two weeks. At one point, each participant was brought into a specially-designed sleep room to be observed while resting. Some of them were randomly assigned to experience disrupted sleep (using beeps in a set of headphones) while others were allowed to sleep peacefully. Each participant then underwent a spinal tap (ouch) the following morning to measure the levels of amyloid beta and tau proteins in their brain and spinal cord fluid.

The sleep observation was then repeated a month or so later, but the groups were switched so that the people who experienced disrupted sleep the first time were allowed to rest peacefully and the people who rested peacefully the first time experienced disrupted sleep. Protein levels were then measured one more time the next morning.

Across the board, the researchers found that after the single night of disrupted sleep, participants’ amyloid beta protein levels increased by 10 percent. And when activity monitor data revealed that participants were sleeping poorly at home for a week before they underwent a spinal tap, the researchers found that their tau protein levels spiked as well.

While most of us have yet to reach our middle-age years, logging quality sleep now is still incredibly important when it comes to protecting our mental health. So rather than risking cognitive decline, just turn out the lights and call it a night instead of continuing that Netflix binge until 3 a.m. No show is worth risking cognitive decline.