One night of sleep deprivation can increase the levels of molecules that are biomarkers for brain damage, according to a new study out of Sweden.

The study, conducted by researchers from Uppsala University's Department of Neuroscience and published in the journal Sleep, looked at levels of two types of brain molecules:

  • NSE, a neuronal enzyme.
  • The calcium-binding protein S-100B.

These molecules typically rise in the blood under conditions resulting in brain damage or distress. An increase in levels of the molecules can be measured after everything from sports injuries to the head and carbon monoxide poisoning, to sleep apnea and fetal distress after childbirth.

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Getting restful sleep consistently may be 'critical' to brain health, according to research out of Sweden that's published in the journal Sleep. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty)

Researchers measured the levels of NSE and S-100B in the blood of 15 healthy young men who were sleep-deprived for one night, and found morning serum levels of the molecules increased by about 20 per cent compared with values obtained after a night of sleep.

"The blood concentration of both biomarkers was elevated after sleep loss. This makes it unlikely that our results were caused by chance," lead researcher Christian Benedict said.

He said the results indicate a lack of sleep may promote "neurodegenerative processes.

"In conclusion, the findings of our trial indicate that a good night's sleep may be critical for maintaining brain health," he said.

Benedict said it's important to note, however, that levels of NSE and S-100B previously found after acute brain damage (including as a result of a concussion), have been distinctly higher than those found in the Swedish study, and there is no suggestion that a single night of sleep loss is equally harmful to your brain as a head injury.

Still, the researchers said their findings suggest "a good night’s sleep may possess neuroprotective function in humans, as has also been suggested by others."