Research has long associated poor sleep with an increased risk of depression, but scientists have just identified the neural mechanism responsible for this link – a discovery that could lead to better treatments in the future.
Researchers found a strong connection between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (responsible for short-term memory), the precuneus (linked with ideas of the self) and the lateral orbitofrontal cortex (associated with negative emotions).
An analysis of the records of 9,735 people living with depressive problems found that there was increased activity between these brain regions in people who also reported disrupted sleep patterns, and that’s a crucial discovery in our understanding of these conditions.
“The relation between depression and sleep has been observed more than one hundred years, and now we have identified the neural mechanisms of how they are connected for the first time,” says one of the team, Jianfeng Feng from the University of Warwick in the UK.
“These findings provide a neural basis for understanding how depression relates to poor sleep quality, and this in turn has implications for treatment of depression and improvement of sleep quality because of the brain areas identified.”
The researchers have hypothesised that this brain activity might be a sign of negative emotions bouncing around in the mind – partly explaining why problems with sleep and problems with depression often go together.
– David Nield
Image source – Flickr.com