Sleep Keeps Brain Growing Strong

Restless rats failed to retain new neurons, study found

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WEDNESDAY, Jan. 11, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Lack of sleep undermines the rejuvenating effects of new learning on the brain, according to a study in rats.

According to researchers at the University of California and Stanford University, learning spatial tasks -- such as finding your way to a new destination -- helps the brain produce new brain cells in an area of the brain called the hippocampus.

Sleep can help those new brain cells survive, the researchers added.

But their study in rats suggests that a lack of sleep impairs spatial learning. Compared to well-rested rats, sleep-restricted rats had a harder time remembering a newly learned route through a maze. The sleep-restricted rats also displayed lower rates of survival for new hippocampus cells.

The findings appear in the Journal of Neurophysiology.

Overall, the study demonstrated that learning depends on two factors: exposure to new material and adequate sleep.

"Mild, chronic sleep restriction may have long-term deleterious effects on neural functioning," the study authors wrote.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers advice on how to get a good night's sleep.

SOURCE: American Physiological Society, news release, Jan. 9, 2006

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