You’ve heard of eating your heart out? Well researchers have discovered a person can eat his brains out! The brain has a ‘maintenance crew’ of cells astrocytes and microglia. Astrocytes repair damaged neurons in the brain and perform a host of other functions including straining the blood and providing nutrients to the brain. Microglia seek out damaged neurons and synapses (parts of the nerves) and destroy them and they also play a big part of the blood brain barrier.
However a study from Italy revealed that when there’s sleep deprivation these cells go out of whack and start to consume healthy brain cells instead of doing their jobs. This was found in mice deprived of sleep and the same thing is assumed to exist in humans too.
Four Italian students researched what happens to these cells when deprived of sleep. They made three groups of mice. One group was allowed to sleep as much as it wanted. A second group was deprived of sleep for 8 hours and a third group was forced to stay awake for 5 days straight to copy chronic sleep deprivation.
Researchers discovered that in the last 2 groups that were deprived of sleep both types of cells stated going wild and instead of just cleaning up damaged synapses they started killing perfectly healthy ones in the brain. In the mice deprived for 8 hours 8% of the mice showed this phenomenon and in the last group deeply deprived 13.5% of the mice displayed this phenomenon. “We proved with this research for the first time that portions of perfectly healthy synapses get eaten up literally, because of sleep deprivation,” say the researchers.
Assuming that what happens to mice will happen to other mammals including humans there is a clear message to us: try to stay clear of chronic sleep deprivation. Nobody wants to lose totally healthy brain cells just because he went to sleep late. Earlier research has shown a relationship between Alzheimer’s disease, other brain degenerative diseases and increased microglia activity so that is another reason to stay away from sleep deprivation.