Mice Study Shows Link Between Sleep and Stress

Feeling stressed? It could be because you’re sleeping poorly at night.

(CN) — Scientists say they have cracked the code between sleep and stress.

Using an animal model involving mice, researchers from NYU Abu Dhabi’s Laboratory of Neural Systems and Behavior claim to have demonstrated how abnormal sleep patterns can predict a person’s vulnerability to stress.

Published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, the study by NYUAD assistant professor Dipesh Chaudhury and research associate Basma Radwan describes their utilization of a mouse model to demonstrate how disruptions in non-rapid eye movement sleep increases vulnerability to chronic stress.

The findings may potentially lead to sleep tests that identify susceptibility and resilience in humans, study authors say.

Stress and a lack of sleep can severely impact physical and mental health, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research has shown that sleep facilitates various bodily processes, including muscle repair and such mental tasks as concentration.

During the study, researchers identified sleep characteristics of mice before and after experiencing “chronic social defeat” stress, or CSD. CSD causes chronic stress in animals and humans, significantly changing behavior, brain function, physiology, hormone levels and health.

Post-stress, the social behavior of mice in the experiments was classified in two main phenotypes: those susceptible to stress that displayed social avoidance and those capable of handling stress.

“Mice susceptible to stress displayed increased fragmentation of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep from increased switching between NREM and wake and shorter average duration of NREM bouts, relative to mice resilient to stress,” according to the study.

Scientific analysis showed that pre-stress features from both phenotypes of mice predicted susceptibility to stress with more than 80% accuracy.

“Post-CSD, susceptible mice maintained high NREM fragmentation during the light and dark phase while resilient mice exhibited high NREM fragmentation only in the dark.”

Researchers say the findings demonstrate that mice susceptible to CSD stress “exhibit pre-existing abnormal sleep/wake characteristics” prior to experiencing stress, while subsequent exposure to stress further impairs sleep and a healthy response to difficult situations.

“Our study is the first to provide an animal model to investigate the relationship between poor sleep continuity and vulnerability to chronic stress and depressive disorders,” said Chaudhury and Radwan in a statement.

“This marker of vulnerability to stress opens up avenues for many possible future studies that could further explain the underlying molecular processes and neural circuitry that lead to mood disorders.”

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