How does a single night of not sleeping affect brain health?


We all know sleeping is important for our health. At, I have always promoted sleeping 7-9 hours of sleep for adults. I was fascinated when I came across a study looking at what happens in our brain with a single night of sleep deprivation.

The study looked at a protein called β-Amyloid. This is a small protein in the brain that has become infamous for its association with Alzheimer’s disease. β -Amyloid is really nothing more than a waste product that is present in the brain interstitial fluid.

What makes the connection with sleep is that β-Amyloid increases with poor sleep. Also, higher levels of β-Amyloid are linked with poor brain function.

In this particular study, the authors looked at the effects of a single night of not sleeping and β-Amyloid. They got 20 healthy adults and used a PET scan to measure β -Amyloid in the brain.

Interestingly, the authors found that a single night of sleep deprivation resulted in increased β-Amyloid in the hippocampal, parahippocampal and thalamic regions. These are the areas of the brain important in memory and emotional responses.

In fact, a single night of sleep deprivation was associated with feeling less alert, more tired, less friendly, less happy, less social, and less energetic.

In comparing the radiotracer uptake and sleep hours, the authors showed a linear relationship with higher sleep having less β-Amyloid. The lowest amount of β-Amyloid was seen with 8 or more hours of sleep.

The take-home message here is simple. Getting enough sleep plays a critical role in our brain health. It’s important to aim for 7-9 hours of sleep. In fact, 8-9 hours may even be ideal.


Shokri-Kojori E, Wang G-J, Wiers CE, Demiral SB, Guo M, Kim SW, et al. β-Amyloid accumulation in the human brain after one night of sleep deprivation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2018;115(17):4483-8.


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