Sleeping doesn’t only make us feel more energized, it also helps our brain function within normal parameters. When we sleep, our brain cleans the toxic byproducts of neural activity. A new study shows that sleep deprivation makes the brain clear important synaptic connections and neurons. In other words, when a person doesn’t get enough sleep, the brain starts to auto-cannibalize.
Researchers discovered that the brain needs sleep to act normally. If not, the brain starts losing mass, auto cannibalized neurons being lost for good, no matter how much a human sleeps on the weekend.
Michele Bellesi, the leader of the study, and her team observed that there is a great difference between the brain of a well-rested rodent and a sleep deprived one.
Glial Cells Do All the Work
All of the cells in our body (including neurons) are refreshed by glial cells. These glial cells are support mechanisms that are known as the glue of the nervous system. There are two types of glial cells : microglial and astrocytes. The first clear worn-out cells, while astrocytes prune unnecessary connections in the brain to help it work properly.
Glial cells do their work while we are asleep. This new research shows that the process also happens when we are sleep deprived. The difference is that when we don’t sleep well enough, the brain starts harming itself.
“We show for the first time that portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss,” mentioned the leader of the study
To conduct this study, researchers placed the mice into 4 categories:
- One group was well-rested (6-8 hours);
- One was periodically woken up (spontaneously awakened);
- The third group was awake for another 8 hours;
- The final group was awake for 5 days consecutively.
The researchers observed that in 5.7% of the astrocytes did their work in the synapses of well-rested mice. In comparison, astrocytes activity was found in 7.3% of the synapses of mice awakened spontaneously. In the other 2 groups, the astrocytes increased their activity so much that they started to eat parts of synapses.
The scientists also checked for microglial cell activity. They observed that microglial activity, which is linked to dementia, was also increased in the mice that were sleep deprived. This shows that sleep deprivation can also have an influence on the development of dementia or dementia-related diseases. Researchers mentioned that this link might not apply to humans since the study was performed in mice.
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