By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
Now that school is back in session, sleep seems to become more of a hassle than a necessity. After all, who can afford to snooze when there are books to read and tests to study for? Well, we already know sleep strongly affects our focus, memory, and overall health, but now there’s a new reason catch your fair share of Zzz’s. According to a recent study, sleep loss may cause the brain to shrink!
While researchers aren’t exactly sure why we need sleep – or why we dream for that matter – they do know that skipping a few hours here and there every night can have pretty terrible effects on our mind’s ability to function well. You see, our brain works hard to make sure our body is working just fine, automatically regulating everything from breathing to reading facial expressions. As the day passes, however, different toxins build up and essentially make it difficult for brain cells to communicate with each other.
There’s so much gunk saturating our poor noggin’ by the end of day, that it’s difficult to form a complete thought! While the exact function of sleep may be a mystery, scientists do know that getting the proper amount of rest every night rinses the brain of these toxins, effectively refreshing it for a brand new day. Sure, some individuals are used to shaving off a few hours every night, but based on the study’s findings, they might want to rethink their bad habits.
See, researchers scanned the brains of 147 participants and asked the volunteers to fill out a survey regarding their personal sleeping habits. Based on the survey responses, a whopping 35% suffered from unhealthy patterns of sleep. About three and a half years later, the same group of participants returned to the lab and had their brain volume measured for a second time. Apparently, those who had poor sleeping habits also experienced a rapid decline in brain volume or size.
So, does this mean that sleep deprivation will eventually cause people to walk around with pea-sized brains? It might be tempting to think so, but there is more work to be done before scientists can say for sure. “It is not yet known whether poor sleep quality is a cause or consequence of changes in brain structure,” mentioned Claire Sexton, one of the main experimenters of the study. Basically, they’re not sure whether lack of sleep causes the brain to shrink, or if a shrinking brain causes lack of sleep.
Whatever the answer is, we better make sure to get some sleep before we become brainless zombies!
Featured image courtesy of Ed Yourdon on Flickr. Image of frog brains courtesy of Emilio Garcia on Flickr.