Your brain starts to eat itself if it hasn’t had enough sleep, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the Marche Polytechnic University in Italy. Chronic lack of sleep stimulates cell activity that causes irreversible damage to the brain.
This undoubtedly may sound highly twisted, but the study conducted on mice showed that sleep deprivation can cause parts of the brain’s synapses to be ‘eaten’ by other brain cells.
Research shows that allowing our bodies to suffer from sleep deprivation ultimately damages our brains since it triggers an overdrive in cell activity, causing self-cannibalism.
Researchers analyzed the brains of mice with the help of block-face scanning software; scientists were able to measure the synapses and cell processes in the mouse’s frontal cortex. They specifically looked at certain cells called astrocytes cells and found that the sleep-deprived mice showed more activity with these cells.
One type of glial cell, called an astrocyte, prunes unnecessary synapses in the brain to remodel its wiring. Another type, called a microglial cell, prowls the brain for damaged cells and debris.
In the short term, this might be beneficial, clearing potentially harmful debris and rebuilding worn circuitry might protect healthy brain connections, but it may cause harm in the long term.
“We show for the first time that portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss,” researcher Michele Bellesi said.
The research team also found that microglial cells were more active after chronic sleep deprivation.
“We already know that sustained microglial activation has been observed in Alzheimer’s and other forms of neurodegeneration,” he says.
The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.