Chronic sleep deprivation can cause the brain to start eating itself, according to study at the Marche Polytechnic University in Italy. Astrocytes are cells in our brain that destroy and digest worn-out cells and debris, but researchers studying the brain of mice have found that these cells go into overdrive when the animals are chronically sleep-deprived, destroying more of the brain’s neural connections.
According to researchers, this activity of astrocytes is not necessarily a bad thing as it helps weed out unnecessary synapses in the brain to remodel its wiring. Moreover, most of the cells affected during the examination were more mature and used more intensively. “They are like old pieces of furniture, and so probably need more attention and cleaning,” Michele Bellesi, lead author of the study, told New Scientist in a statement.
However, if this condition becomes chronic, microglial brain cells, which get rid of damaged cells and debris, becomes more active in brain experiencing chronic sleep deprivation, which Bellesi says is a more worrying find because “excessive microglial activity has been linked to a range of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of neurodegeneration”
Also, did you know: sleep deprivation can lead to a loss of connectivity between neurons in the hippocampus, thereby affecting your memory? And, that it can push your brain to age faster?
Source/Reference: New Scientist | Sleep Loss Promotes Astrocytic Phagocytosis and Microglial Activation in Mouse Cerebral Cortex. The Journal of Neuroscience, 2017. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3981-16.2017