Lack of sleep may shrink your brainVal Willingham, CNNUpdated 2159 GMT (0559 HKT) January 2, 2015Photos: Brain facts 8 photosHow to keep your brain healthy – Scientists have learned more about the brain in the past 10 years than in all other time periods combined. Take a look at these discoveries to see how to improve your memory and boost your mental power.Hide Caption 1 of 8Photos: Brain facts 8 photosUse your vacation days – Brains think more clearly when we're not overworking ourselves. By taking a break from work, you'll experience more "Aha" moments, since you're not using your brain to focus on endless tasks that lie ahead or dwelling on events that occurred in the past. But using your vacation for relaxation and not catching up on work is the key to mentally recharging.Hide Caption 2 of 8Photos: Brain facts 8 photosDon't miss out on sleep – Sleep helps the brain consolidate memories and clear out waste. Lack of sleep can affect your reaction time, your memory and how well you process information. Chronic sleep loss can put you at risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke and speed up the aging process.Hide Caption 3 of 8Photos: Brain facts 8 photosAvoid intense multitasking – It's actually impossible to do several different things at once, and multitasking isn't good for the brain (PDF). It decreases mental performance and makes us worse at getting anything done. Focus on one task at a time, and take breaks. If you must take on more than one task, make sure you pair a task that requires less thinking with one that doesn't require as much, such as doing laundry while paying bills.Hide Caption 4 of 8Photos: Brain facts 8 photosGet enough vitamin D – Recently it's been discovered that vitamin D can help support brain health, especially in seniors. People with low vitamin D levels experience more cognitive decline than those with normal levels. The vitamin also supports healthy blood vessel function and the growth and survival of neurons.Hide Caption 5 of 8Photos: Brain facts 8 photosDrink green tea – Tea has been around for 5,000 years, but new research suggests that drinking green tea can improve attention span and boost your brain for mentally challenging tasks. The caffeine in the beverage can also help with memory recall and processing.Hide Caption 6 of 8Photos: Brain facts 8 photosChallenge yourself – Exercising your mind with activities other than traditional "brain games" is a great way to build and maintain brain power. Working on a challenging new skill can give your brain a boost, or even changing your routine to stimulate learning through novelty.Hide Caption 7 of 8Photos: Brain facts 8 photosRead more fiction – Fiction novels might improve brain functions in several ways. A small study found that when you are engrossed in a novel, brain connectivity and function are enhanced. The neural changes that occur in the brain when reading put the reader into another person's shoes, and as a result, story comprehension improves.Hide Caption 8 of 8Story highlightsResearchers scanned participants' brains approximately 3½ years apartThose who slept poorly had a more rapid decline in brain volumeResults were more significant in participants over age of 60 (CNN)Can a lack of sleep affect the size of your brain? It's possible, a recent study published in an online issue of Neurology suggests.European researchers looked at 147 adults between the ages of 20 and 84. With two MRI scans, they examined the link between sleep problems like insomnia and the study participants' brain volume. The first scan was taken before patients completed a questionnaire pertaining to their sleep habits. The second scan was done approximately 3½ years later.The questionnaire showed that 35% of those in the study met the criteria for poor sleep health. Investigators found that those with sleep problems had a more rapid decline in brain volume or size over the course of the study than those who slept well. The results were even more significant in participants over the age of 60.Just WatchedSleep tips for more zzzzzs!replayMore Videos ...Sleep tips for more zzzzzs! 01:23PLAY VIDEOJust WatchedTrouble sleeping? Put the iPhone downreplayMore Videos ...Trouble sleeping? Put the iPhone down 05:46PLAY VIDEOJust WatchedSleep & HealthreplayMore Videos ...Sleep & Health 02:56PLAY VIDEONumerous studies have showed the importance of sleep and the effect sleep deprivation can have on our brains. It is well-known that poor sleep patterns can contribute to such brain disorders as Alzheimer's and dementia. So it stands to reason that, if a lack of sleep can lead to memory loss, the size of the brain would also be affected. "We know that a lack of sleep can lead to all kinds of problems," explained Dr. Neal Maru, a neurologist and sleep specialist with Integrated Sleep Services in Alexandria, Virginia, who is not associated with the study. "Poor sleep can affect our immune systems, our cardiovascular health, weight and, of course, memories. But we still don't know why. "Studies have shown poor sleep can cause protein buildup in the brain that attacks brain cells. So we're still trying to put the puzzle together."The study authors agree. "It is not yet known whether poor sleep quality is a cause or consequence of changes in brain structure," said author Claire Sexton of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. "There are effective treatments for sleep problems, so future research needs to test whether improving people's quality of sleep could slow the rate of brain volume loss. If that is the case, improving people's sleep habits could be an important way to improve brain health.""The problem is, we really don't know what comes first," Maru agreed. "Is it a sleep problem that causes the atrophy (wasting away of a body part), or is it the atrophy that causes the sleep problems? That's a question we need to sort out."More from HealthDoes this beach paradise hold the secret to long life?Coffee is practically a health food: Myth or fact?Is your penis size 'normal'?