Too Little Sleep Causes Lasting Brain Damage

It’s not enough to have a weekend sleep-in if you’re always sleep-deprived, according to US and Chinese researchers who believe prolonged periods without sleep kills brain cells.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in the US and Peking University in China studied the brain function of mice that were put on a rotating sleep routine.

The patterns were similar to what a shift worker would experience, with varying sleep durations at different times of the day, and researchers found that sleep deprivation destroyed some neurons.

“These results are troubling, and strongly caution against the idea that chronic sleep loss can be recouped — that we can continually repay ourselves a sleep debt in full and without harm or negative consequence,” sleep specialist Dr Michael Breus blogged on Huffington Post.

The researchers conducted regular neurological examinations on the mice concentrating on the locus coeruleus (LC) brain region, which is responsible for attention, wakefulness, memory, emotional response and cognitive function.

It was found neurons in this area significantly altered when the mice were sleep deprived, which led to impaired neurological cell function and irreversible damage.

The LC neurons could handle short-term sleep deprivation by producing a protein and antioxidant to protect them.

But when the mice were kept awake for extended periods, their LC neurons did not produce the protective protein and antioxidant, which led to the LC neurons eventually dying.

After several days of sleep deprivation, the mice lost 25 percent of LC neurons.

Australasian Sleep Association president Nick Antic told ninemsn that until now, most researchers have believed that sleep deprivation could be reversed if people later caught up.

“The general belief has been that the consequences of sleep loss on the brain are not permanent, so this study challenges things a little bit,” he said.

Associate Professor Antic said further studies will need to be done using functional MRI scans to see what is happening in the human brain, but said it is difficult to get such microscopic detail in human studies.

“We do know that there are important associations between not getting enough sleep and mental health issues and heart issues,” he said.

“This brain damage is a relatively new concept. It’s certainly interesting, but needing more research.”

But regardless of what further studies uncover, Associate Professor Antic said this is a timely reminder of the importance of getting enough sleep.

“We’re a 24/7 society and there is a belief you can get more done if you sleep less,” he said.

“It’s a false belief because sleep loss has consequences and can affect your cardiovascular health, metabolic function, increase your risk of accidents, reduce your quality of work performance and affect your memory.

The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Source: Huffington Post Author: Kimberly Gillan; Approving editor: Wade O’Leary