Sleep deprivation leads to schizophrenia-like symptoms

For healthy people, just 24 hours of sleep deprivation can lead to symptoms that resemble schizophrenia, new research reports.

The findings may help researchers create a model that assists in the development of drugs to treat psychosis-related conditions.

Chaos in the brain

Scientists from the University of Bonn, King's College London and the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University of Bonn Hospital recruited 24 healthy subjects between the ages of 18 and 40 for the study.

During the first part of the trial, participants slept normally in a laboratory. One week later, they were kept awake all night for one night with games, movies, conversation and walks.

The morning following sleep deprivation, the participants were asked to report their thoughts and feelings. Additionally, they underwent a measurement called prepulse inhibition, which reveals how the brain filters information.

"In our subjects, this filtering function of the brain was significantly reduced following a sleepless night," said Prof. Ulrich Ettinger of the Cognitive Psychology Unit in the Department of Psychology at the University of Bonn. "There were pronounced attention deficits, such as what typically occurs in the case of schizophrenia. The unselected flood of information led to chaos in the brain."

Sense of time and smell altered

After a night without sleep, the subjects' sense of time and smell were altered, and they were also more sensitive to light, color and brightness.

Some patients also reported the impression of being able to read thoughts or notice altered body perception.

"We did not expect that the symptoms could be so pronounced after one night spent awake," the researchers wrote.

While symptoms disappeared after a full night's sleep, the findings indicate that treating psychoses could work by following a sleep deprivation model. Similarly, research on how sleep deprivation affects night workers would also be helpful, the authors stated.

Source: Universität Bonn

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