If you haven't slept, please do — or your brain will enter self-destruct mode.


According to the UK's health authorities, one in three people suffered from lack of sleep. Many people sacrifice sleep for work, some to study, and others sacrifice rest for other reasons. Many also suffer from the inability to fall asleep.

Lack of sleep carries many health risks. In the short run, it causes you to be grumpy, irritable, hungry and feeling weak. However, the cost of a sleepless night is far beyond mood changes and reduced focus. For example, continuous lack of sleep may cause obesity, coronary heart disease and diabetes, shortening your life expectancy.

It is recommended that everyone get around eight hours of sleep per day to avoid the aforementioned risks. However, if those risks do not scare you enough, this one might. Lack of sleep causes your brain to self-destruct. Chronic loss of sleep tells your brain to eat itself. Our brain eats itself regularly to clean the mess up there, but this one is different.

A study conducted in 2018 found that chronic poor sleep causes the brain to eat an excessive amount of neurons and synaptic connections to the point where recovering sleep does not reverse the damage. The study was conducted by a team led by neuroscientist Michele Bellesi from the Marche Polytechnic University in Italy. The team examined the brain's response to continuous sleep deprivation.

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The neurons in our brains, like every cell in our bodies, are continuously being replaced by new cells. The neurons are refreshed by two different types of glial cells, one of which are the microglial cells or the astrocytes that are responsible for cleaning up the brain by eating old and worn-out cells, pruning unnecessary synapses to refresh and reshape the brain's wiring via a process called phagocytosis.

The process occurs when we sleep and when we start to lose sleep. In the latter, however, the brain starts doing it excessively, harming itself instead. The researchers discovered the condition after examining four groups of mice. (1) one was left to sleep for 6 to 8 hours, (2) another was woken up regularly and spontaneously, (3) another was kept awake for an extra 8 hours, and (4) the last group was kept awake for five days straight.

The researchers found out that the activity of the astrocytes occurred in 5.7 percent of the synapses in the mouse brains of the first group and 7.3 in the second group. Meanwhile, the third group recorded astrocytes activities in 8.4 percent of the synapses, while 13.5 percent was found in the last group.

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"We show for the first time that portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss," Bellesi told Andy Coghlan at New Scientist.

Uncontrolled microglial activity has been linked to brain diseases like Alzheimer's and other forms of brain degeneration.

"We find that astrocytic phagocytosis, mainly of presynaptic elements in large synapses, occurs after both acute and chronic sleep loss, but not after spontaneous wake, suggesting that it may promote the housekeeping and recycling of worn components of heavily used, strong synapses," reported the researchers.

"By contrast, only chronic sleep loss activates microglia cells and promotes their phagocytic activity ... suggesting that extended sleep disruption may prime microglia and perhaps predispose the brain to other forms of insult."


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