Having recently been diagnosed with sleep apnea, I understand all too well the importance of getting enough quality sleep and how awful it feels when you don’t.
A good night’s sleep can do wonders for your health, but for many people, getting it as an uphill battle. I can’t tell you the last time that I felt well-rested. Every single day, I deal with chronic fatigue.
And I’m certainly not alone. Everything from anxiety and depression to chronic insomnia can put a wrench in your pleasant dream plans. Chances are if you suffer from any of these conditions, you’re familiar with the effects of sleep deprivation. As a new study reveals, severe sleep deprivation doesn’t just make getting through the work day harder. It can actually cause your brain to eat itself.
A study printed in the Journal of Neuroscience revealed that the brain cells tasked with digesting cellular debris can go into overdrive when deprived of sleep and as a result, they can cause the brain to feed on itself.
These cells, known as microglia, are responsible for ingesting the waste products produced by the nervous system.
But microglia cells aren’t the only active cells in the brain. Astrocytes are the multitaskers of the ol’ noggin. Among other things, they sift through unnecessary synapses to help rewire the brain.
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For the study, researchers tested four groups of mice. While one group was allowed to sleep for as long as they liked, the other groups were forced to endure different levels of sleep deprivation, including periodic wakeup calls and cruelly being kept awake for five straight days.
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The astrocytes in the well-rested mice were active in six percent of the synapses, whereas the the sleep deprived mice experienced major overdrives.
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Neuroscientist Michele Bellesi revealed that for the first time ever, they were able to witness portions of the brain being eaten alive by the astrocytes as a result of sleep loss.