An article in the scientific journal, Sleep, has received wide media coverage. It showed that a lack of sleep, even in healthy young people, produces chemical changes in the brain similar to being hit hard on the head. Specifically, the young men tested had spikes in the molecules NSE and S-100B after the loss of just one night of sleep. As the headline of the interesting summary in the Daily Express put it: “Sleep loss can hurt brain like a blow to head”. Other research has shown that the brain needs sleep to cleanse itself of toxins, and the lead researcher, Prof Christian Benedict, was quoted as saying: “Our results indicate a lack of sleep may promote neurodegenerative processes.”
Sleep problems affect many people with ME/CFS; in fact, in one investigation of 1578 patients, 92–94% reported sleep disturbances with a high degree of severity. We also know that different patients experience different kinds of sleep difficulties, and that these impact greatly on all aspects of life. So, the findings may help to explain some of the difficulties patients have with “brain fog”, memory, concentration/attention and information processing, and the importance of clinical sleep assessment and treatment.