Sleep Deprivation Eats Your Brain

Did you sleep last night? Or did you toss and turn the night away? Or maybe it was school work that kept you up, or cramming for a final. Or maybe you just threw the most epic party the numismatics club had ever seen. Whatever kept you up last night, it didn't do your brain any favors. Turns out the brain goes full-zombie on itself if it doesn't get enough sleep.

The Brain Drain

We've already told you sleeping is how your brain tidies up, clipping away unnecessary memories to make room for the next day's events. But surprisingly, not getting enough sleep doesn't prevent that trim from occurring. It takes the brakes off it. Astrocytes are the brain cells responsible for that clean-up, and a team of researchers from Italy's Marche Polytechnic University found that when their mice were deprived of sleep, their astrocytes went into overdrive.

Some mice were given a nightly eight hours of sleep, and some were periodically interrupted to keep them from snoozing too deeply. Some were kept awake for an entire night, and some poor little rodents were forced to stay up five nights straight. The less the mice slept, the more active their astrocytes became. What's more, the astrocytes in the good-sleep and interrupted-sleep mice stuck to the business of eating brain waste, those in the sleep-deprived category ate parts of working synapses instead. No wonder they say driving without sleep is as bad as driving drunk.

The Long-Term Damage

Your brain eating itself is pretty bad news. That kind of damage can lead to some serious problems in the long run. This activity might be a key explanation for diseases like Alzheimer's, which has already been linked with highly active microglial cells — the same type of cells as astrocytes. As a matter of fact, a lack of sleep is strongly associated with the disease as well. If that's not a good enough reason to practice good sleep hygiene, we don't know what is. Here's a quick primer on healthy sleep habits to help you beat insomnia:

  • Limit your naps to 30 minutes. Who doesn't love naps? But they don't take the place of a good night's sleep, and might get in the way of one.
  • Get some exercise. You don't want to get yourself too energized right before bed. But sometime during the day, try to work up a sweat.
  • Enjoy natural light. Exposure to sunlight during the day and darkness at night regulates your body clock and gets you sleepy on schedule.
  • Cut out the screens. Try putting down the phone, stepping away from the computer, and leaving the TV off an hour before bed. It could do wonders.

Why Your Brain Needs Sleep

Written by Reuben Westmaas July 19, 2017

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.