Sleep Deprivation = Damaged Brain Cells?

10th April 2014

We all know how a good night's sleep can leave us feeling refreshed and ready to face the world, but scientific evidence suggests that making up for lost hours of sleep with one massive lie in actually does not help at all. Shift workers and those with unusual work hours who rely on very little sleep at all could actually be harming their brain cells, perhaps irreversibly.

The Catch-Up Myth
The University of Pennsylvania conducted an experiment that tested the current theories about persistent sleep deprivation and its possible correlation with brain damage. Many people believe that consistent late evenings and early mornings can be remedied by a catch up at the weekends or on days off, believing those lost hours of sleep to have been replenished. A great deal of people do feel refreshed and revitalised after enjoying a lie in that follows a sustained period of rather sporadic sleeping, however it appears as though the neurological damage may have already been done.

The Neurological Study
Neuroscientist Sigrid Veasey of the university decided to test the theory on mice, putting them on schedules that may be similar to those of shift workers to gauge the effect of unreliable and irregular sleeping patterns on the brain. She focused on the locus coeruleus, the area of the brain responsible for all cognitive functions, and found that the brain's ability to protect these nerve cells was quelled over time. Initially, the brain produces a chemical called sirtuin type 3, which is responsible for protecting the cells when the brain is lacking sleep. However, after the mice began to lack sleep regularly over a sustained period the reactionary instinct to produce the chemical stopped working; this resulted in the loss of over 25% of the neurons.

What this Means for You
Although studies need to be conducted on humans to gain more specific evidence, Veasey hopes her studies can eventually contribute to the creation of medicines that could help people cope with irregular sleep patterns. Working shifts or jobs which require changing hours on a regular basis can make it hard to maintain a healthy sleep regime, but it is important to consider how best to accommodate your body's needs in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle both at work and at home.

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Jamie Mistlin find me on Google+.