Sometimes you have to sacrifice a little sleep to get things done, but extended sleep loss can have very serious consequences on the brain. A recent study confirmed that over a long period of time, sleep deprivation can lead to serious neurological problems. It’s an interesting study that just might make you hit the snooze button tomorrow.
Recent Scientific Discoveries About Extended Sleep Loss
The scientific community has known about the short-term effects of insomnia and sleep deprivation for years. Still, they have recently begun to study the long-term effects of extended sleep loss.
Italian researchers conducted studies on sleep-deprived mice, split into four groups according to their sleep patterns. After four days or so without sleep, a group of cells known as astrocytes was noted to kick into “high gear”. Usually, these cells perform beneficial tasks: they remove potentially hazardous debris and support neural connections, among others.
Sleep loss causes these astrocytes to clean too many synapses, so in a way, the brain starts to cannibalize itself. It still remains to be seen if its effects can be reversed by some good nights of rest. Also, astrocytes are not the only ones to become hyperactive. Microglial cells were also observed to be highly more active.
Even a low level of microglial activation can harm the brain’s effectiveness over time. This can increase an individual’s risk of developing degenerative neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as scientists previously found a connection between the two.
Both astrocytes and microglial cells are part of the usual brain-cleaning process which takes place during sleep and are considered beneficial for our health. So the scientists were surprised to note that these were also active in sleep-deprived brains. They were also even more surprised upon observing their harmful effects.
Sleep deprivation is a very serious medical issue. Although its short-term effects are immediately apparent, the long-term effects of sleep loss include many serious, irreversible neurological diseases. Also, another new study found that losing sleep may also be connected to the higher global temperatures, not just the lifestyle and habits.
Research results are available in a paper in the Journal of Neuroscience.
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