Does poor sleep contribute to symptoms of schizophrenia?

Neuroscientists studying the link between poor sleep and schizophrenia have found that irregular sleep patterns and desynchronized brain activity during sleep could trigger some of the disease’s symptoms.

The findings, published in the journal Neuron, suggest that these prolonged disturbances might be a cause—and not just be a consequence—of the disorder’s debilitating effects.

The possible link between poor sleep and schizophrenia prompted the research team, led by scientists from the United Kingdom’s University of Bristol and the Lilly Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience, to explore the impact of irregular sleep patterns on the brain by recording electrical activity in multiple regions of the brain during sleep.

For many people, sleep deprivation can affect mood, as well as concentration and stress levels. In extreme cases, prolonged sleep deprivation can induce hallucinations, memory loss and confusion—all symptoms of schizophrenia.

Using a rat model of the disease, the team’s recordings showed the waves of activity that normally travel from the front to the back of the brain during deep sleep were not in sync. The team’s findings reported distinct irregular sleep patterns similar to those observed in schizophrenia patients.

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