New research reveals the scary thing that happens to your brain when you’re sleep deprived

Sleep deprivation

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience yielded some fascinating yet terrifying results

By now it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that sleep deprivation is detrimental to your health. Barely a day goes by today when there isn’t an article in one publication or another outlining the effects of sleep loss in the modern world. And on the flip side, there’s plenty of research to show that good sleep patterns benefit our wellbeing immensely – helping the body rest and recover; increasing learning capacity and memory; helping to manage appetite, etc.

But a recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed just how much damage sleep deprivation can cause over time, to the point where your brain could actually start eating itself!

Let’s take a closer look.

The study, conducted by neuroscientist Michele Bellesi and a team of researchers, tested levels of sleep deprivation on mice

Bellesi, who currently works at the Polytechnic University in Italy, led a team of researchers in investigating a group of mice with varying degrees of sleep deprivation. They started by dividing the mice into four groups.

The first group was the “well-rested” group, which were allowed to sleep for six to eight hours a day. Next, there was the group which was allowed to sleep but which were periodically woken up throughout. The third group stayed awake for an extra eight hours before being allowed to rest and the final group were completely sleep-deprived, being kept awake for five consecutive days.

After this period had passed, researchers examined the brain activity of each group and compared them. It was then that they noticed something odd.

While the neurons of both the rested groups and the sleep-deprived groups continued the same healthy brain-cleaning processes that always occur when we sleep, there were some differences between the mice which were alarming.

Far from diminishing the brain-cleansing process, the results suggested that sleep deprivation actually increased the levels of cleansing to an arguably dangerous degree. The process of phagocytosis — the specialized cells which eat other cells and materials in order to remove toxic by-products and neural activity while we sleep – increased after both acute and chronic sleep loss.

Put simply, the brain was damaging itself by cleansing parts that weren’t toxic by-products — meaning it was essentially “eating itself”. The processes which normally occur while we sleep were being carried out in excess due to the effects of the sleep deprivation.

The researchers’ report on the study summarized this conclusion, stating: “These results suggest that chronic sleep loss… may predispose the brain to further damage.”

These results show us how important a healthy sleep pattern is

Although most of us are unlikely to stay awake for five consecutive days like the fourth group of mice in the study, we’re all guilty of a sleepless night here and there. In fact, humans are the only mammals known to willingly delay sleep.

But what these results confirm for us is just how important it is to give your mind and body the rest they need. Try to stick to a regular sleep schedule, and follow lifestyle advice for tackling restlessness if you find falling asleep particularly difficult. You can read about some of those tips here, including not drinking caffeinated drinks close to bedtime and avoiding bright screens to allow your melatonin levels to increase naturally as the evening draws in.

Make the switch to Mammoth

If you value your sleep, it could be time for you to try Mammoth. Find your nearest retailer and arrange a test drive this week. Find a stockist here.

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