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Can sleep deprivation harm memory?... Viagra and antidepressants... electrolyte imbalance.

Q I have a hectic schedule and only get about four hours of sleep at night. I feel that I am losing my ability to recall information. Does sleep deprivation adversely affect memory?

A Many studies conducted over the past decade or so have demonstrated that sleep deprivation interferes with memory performance. Lack of sleep is thought to reduce the process of memory consolidation in which information is moved from short-term memory into long-term memory repositories in the brains hippocampus. Recent research in animals suggests how this impairment might occur. According to a study published online Aug. 23, 2016 in eLife, researchers found that five hours of sleep deprivation--the amount of sleep loss known to produce memory impairment--resulted in structural changes in the synapses, or connection points between brain cells, in mice. Without sufficient sleep, the dendritic spines that receive signals sent by one brain cell to another were reduced in density and length in a specific region of the hippocampus, restricting the animals' ability to consolidate memories. The good news is that when the researchers allowed the memory-challenged mice a three-hour period of recovery sleep, their memory performance was restored. This suggests that any symptoms you may be experiencing from your lack of sleep may be reversible. However, since sleep deprivation has many adverse effects on mental and physical health besides the memory symptoms you have noticed, you should make it a priority to get at least seven hours of high-quality sleep a night.

Q Can Viagra help men with sexual dysfunction caused by taking antidepressants?

A For many men who suffer sexual side effects associated with antidepressant therapy, Viagra, or sildenafil, can help improve sexual function. In one six-week study of healthy men on antidepressants who reported problems with erectile dysfunction and decreased sexual arousal, subjects who took 50-100 mg of sildenafil one hour before sexual intercourse reported "much" or "very much" improvement in measures of sexual dysfunction 54.5 percent of the time. The same measure improved only 4.4 percent in a comparable group of subjects who received an inactive placebo. However, men considering taking Viagra should consult a doctor first. There are a number of physical conditions that may make taking the medication inadvisable, or call for lower dosages.

Q My husband has been experiencing confusion and memory loss. His doctor attributed his cognitive problems to an electrolyte imbalance and, after treatment for kidney problems, he is now back to normal. What causes electrolyte imbalance, and how does it affect the brain?

A Electrolytes are substances such as sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium that help regulate the electric charge and flow of water molecules across cell membranes. Optimal electrolyte balance helps ensure proper functioning of the brain, heart muscle and other organs, as well as regulating oxygen delivery and maintaining fluid balance.

Abnormal electrolyte levels in the blood can cause a variety of adverse effects, and even lead to severe outcomes such as cardiac problems, organ failure, coma, or death. An imbalance can also cause mental symptoms that include confusion, short-term memory problems, irritability, disorientation, depression, and inability to concentrate. Electrolyte imbalances may be caused by disease, parathyroid disorders, diet, medications (e.g., excessive use of over-the-counter drugs, such as antacids and calcium supplements) or other factors. Loss of body fluids or dehydration is one common cause of electrolyte imbalance. Individuals who have suffered fluid loss from impaired kidney function, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, or chronic laxative abuse--or who have become dehydrated because of hot, dry weather, or inadequate water intake--are at greater risk for electrolyte imbalances.

Editor-in-Chief Maurizio Fava, MD

Executive Vice Chair, Department of Psychiatry Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Director of the Division of Clinical Research MGH Research Institute Slater Family Professor of Psychiatry Harvard Medical School
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Title Annotation:ASK THE DOCTOR
Publication:Mind, Mood & Memory
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2017
Words:624
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