Long-term sleep loss causes brain damage

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

alarm clock
Get to bed early and avoid hitting the snooze button.

If you’re often staying up late doing last minute homework, cramming for an exam… or doing something decidedly less productive like playing video games, it’s going to cost you brain cells. Yep, according to a University of Pennsylvania study, the importance of getting some shut-eye is really eye-opening! Even if you take naps or sleep in on the weekends, you won’t undo the negative effects of sleep loss, because apparently it can cause lasting brain damage.

Researchers put lab mice on a weird sleep schedule, waking them up frequently, and then took a look inside their noggins. What they found was that the nerve cells in charge of alertness and their ability to think were damaged, even by as much as a 25% loss. Basically, the nerve cells usually react to lost sleep by making a protein called sirtuin type 3, that juices them up with extra energy and defenses. However, if sleep loss happens too often, they stop making that special protein and begin dying.

Until this study, medical experts didn’t really think that permanent brain damage could be caused by not dozing enough. Human trials still need to be conducted, but the research team hopes that this information could lead to medication for people whose jobs force them to sleep odd hours.

Featured image courtesy of Kain Kalju on Flickr. Image of alarm clock courtesy of Lukasz Hejnak on Flickr.