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Chronic sleep restriction causes a decrease in hippocampal volume in adolescent rats, which is not explained by changes in glucocorticoid levels or neurogenesis.

A good night’s sleep is hard to come by in our current 24-hour society. However, a lack of sleep can have a very damaging effect on the brain. The Groningen neurobiologist Peter Meerlo and his colleague Paul Lucassen from SILS have shown that the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in learning, memory and emotions, even shrinks in rats with chronic sleep deprivation.

Smaller hippocampus
A month of sleep deprivation turned out to induce changes in the structure of the brain. Particularly the hippocampus, a brain structure involved in learning, memory and emotions – is very sensitive to disruptions like sleep deprivation and has decreased in size.’

A reduction in the size of the hippocampus could influence learning performance and mood. Patients with depression also show a reduction in the size of the hippocampus and a disrupted serotonin system. These results confirm that a sleep problem is not only one of the symptoms of depression, but may also be a cause.