STATES CHRONICLE – A new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience warns people that chronic sleep deprivation is much more dangerous that they could have expected. Extreme feelings of exhaustion might be caused by an impairment in one’s brain capacity, which might be a direct cause of sleep deprivation. The study suggests that lack of sleep might actually make the brain eat itself.
Performing brain scans on mice to see how they react to sleep deprivation
For the research, scientists looked at how mice brains reacted when they had a normal sleep patterns, when they awoke spontaneously, and when they suffered sleep deprivation and chronic sleep deprivation.
By using an advanced software, they analyzed the processes and synapses which took place in the frontal cortex of the mice. This technique is called block-face scanning. When looking at the mice with an irregular sleep pattern, they noticed that certain cells were more active than others. These cells, called astrocytes, were found to break down parts of the brain.
More precisely, sleep loss caused these astrocytes to consume entire portion of synapses. Researchers explained that this might be the brain’s way to get rid of ‘debris’ and keep itself clean. Besides, sleep loss also influences other cells as well.
Sleep deprivation activates microglial cells
Microglial cells are also responsible with ‘cleaning’ the brain. They look for unnecessary cells or damaged neurons which are no longer needed in the brain and get rid of them. These represent around 15 percent of all brain cells and are also found in the spinal cord.
Researchers noticed how chronic sleep deprivation (meaning around five days of staying awake) activated the microglial cells. This is quite worrying, since even a small level of activation in these cells can lead to the occurrence of brain disorders. For instance, prolonged activation of the microglial cells is present in patients with Alzheimer’s.
Therefore, long-term sleep deprivation might lead to serious damage to the brain. If people spend too many nights without sleep, they are in danger of losing vital cells from their brain and then gradually lose their cognitive capacity.
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