Irregular sleep patterns as well as desynchronized activity in the brain during sleep can cause symptoms of schizophrenia.

The finding, published in the journal Nueron, came from a study led by the University of Bristol, the Lilly Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience, which examined the association between poor sleep and schizophrenia by measuring electrical brain activity in several areas of the brain during sleep.

According to the authors, these prolonged disruptions in sleep may actually be one of the causes of the disorder, and not just an outcome of its weakening effects.

Sleep deprivation often causes a negative impact on:

  • concentration
  • mood
  • stress levels

After prolonged sleep deprivation, people may experience symptoms of schizophrenia, including:

  • hallucinations
  • confusion
  • memory loss

Dr Ullrich Bartsch, a researcher in the study, said: “Sleep disturbances are well-documented in the disease, though often regarded as side effects and poorly understood in terms of their potential to actually trigger its symptoms.”

The team analyzed a rat model of the disease for their research. Their recordings demonstrated that during sleep, there was desynchronization of the waves of activity that usually go from the front part of the brain to the back part.

The information being passed on between the hippocampus, which is in charge of forming memories, and the frontal cortex, which is in charge of making decisions, seemed to be interrupted. The distinct irregular sleep patterns that the authors recorded are extremely comparable to the sleep patterns in schizophrenics.

Dr Matt Jones, leading author from the University’s School of Physiology and Pharmacology, explained:

“Decoupling of brain regions involved in memory formation and decision-making during wakefulness are already implicated in schizophrenia, but decoupling during sleep provides a new mechanistic explanation for the cognitive deficits observed in both the animal model and patients: sleep disturbances might be a cause, not just a consequence of schizophrenia. In fact, abnormal sleep patterns may trigger abnormal brain activity in a range of conditions.”

Medications are not always effective in treating cognitive deficits, such as reduced short term memory and attention span, because they are typically resistant. This research, however, gives insight into new techniques for nuerocognitive therapy in schizophrenia and other associated psychiatric diseases.

Written by Sarah Glynn