By conducting autopsies on 315 people’s brains aged 90 or older, a study team has found that sleep fragmentation in senior adults could be caused by artery hardening in the brain. This issue can lead to an increase in stroke risks as well as influencing the occurrence of problems related to mental health disorders.
Sleep fragmentation refers to the amount of patient’s arousal during night time, as well as how many hours of sleep a subject undergoes. As people advance in age, even if they tend to sleep more, they usually have problems in staying asleep for a prolonged period.
Out of the people encompassed by the study, 29% of them went through stroke-related events while 61% of the subjects presented brain damage ranging from mild to severe, in relation to their sleeping patterns. But one has to keep in mind the fact that this study was not conducted in order to define a conclusive link between sleep fragmentation and brain artery damage, showing results reached through correlation.
The goal of the study was to cement a viable hypothesis. Researchers have achieved three probable links between the two issues. The first viable idea is that sleep fragmentation, or poor sleep in general, leads to brain damage that could eventually cause cognitive dysfunctions and stroke risk increases.
The second viable option is viewed vice-versa, with artery hardening caused by advanced age leading to poor sleep conditions due to the brain’s oxygen deprivation. This could be used as a telltale sign of showing how someone has had a mild stroke if this event poses no other side-effects.
The final option is a combination of the other two, linked to the hypothalamus and other brain sleep centers. Although the hypothalamus is only a small portion of the patient’s brain, if one would suffer from an infarction in this portion’s blood supply, it could lead to an increase in sleep fragmentation. This type of event is completely independent from regular heart stroke incidents.
On the other hand, the idea that brain damage is caused by sleep fragmentation is backed up by previously identified factors which are somewhat similar. Cerebrovascular pathology is influenced by other forms of sleep disruption by a significant amount. Some of the symptoms presented by patients who suffer from this type of sleep fragmentation are hypertension during night-time or day-time periods, a significant alteration of glucose processing mechanisms and other similar issues.
If the hypothesis stating that sleep fragmentation in senior adults could be caused by artery hardening is proven to be true by conducting clinical trials and further studies, doctors will have another way of seeing a patient’s risk of having a stroke or other similar issues. Only time will tell if either of the three ideas is found to be correct or if they will all be dismissed entirely.