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Sleeping Like This Could Make You Dumber!

By on March 21, 2014
Could pulling all-nighters make you dumber? Believe it or not, this may now be a reality, according to a new study published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Studying mice suffering from chronic sleep loss–something common for those pulling regular all-nighters–researcher Sigrid Veasey, M.D. found that they lost brain neurons responsible for cognition and alertness, called locus coeruleus neurons.

But the disturbing part was how much they lost: Up to 25 percent.

“In general, we’ve always assumed full recovery of cognition following short-and long-term sleep loss,” says Veasey, who works as an associate professor of medicine for the Perelman School of Medicine. “But some of the research in humans has shown that attention span and several other aspects of cognition may not normalize even with three days of recovery sleep, raising the question of lasting injury in the brain. We wanted to figure out exactly whether chronic sleep loss injures neurons, whether the injury is reversible, and which neurons are involved.”

The Study

Studying a group of laboratory mice, Veasey was tasked with the following strategy: Find out how typical deprived sleeping patterns affected neurons in their brains, something needed for optimal cognition. To do so, they forced the mice to stay awake and get little sleep, mimicking the daily sleeping habits of a shift worker.

In response, Veasey found that not having a healthy sleeping pattern caused their locus coeruleus neurons to die off, causing up to a 25 percent loss in these neurons–not a small number by any measure.

But the scary part is how fast it happened–in just several days.

“This is the first report that sleep loss can actually result in a loss of neurons,” says Veasey. “In light of the role for SirT3 in the adaptive response to sleep loss, the extent of neuronal injury may vary across individuals. Specifically, aging, diabetes, high-fat diet and sedentary lifestyle may all reduce SirT3. If cells in individuals, including neurons, have reduced SirT3 prior to sleep loss, these individuals may be set up for greater risk of injury to their nerve cells.”

In turn, Veasey’s team says it plans to explore how sleep deprivation and neuron loss may affect diseases affected by the deterioration of the brain, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. However, Veasey emphasizes that this does not mean he thinks sleep loss could trigger these conditions–but it could make it potentially worse.

“Injuring LC neurons due to sleep loss could potentially facilitate or accelerate neurodegeneration in individuals who already have these disorders,” says Veasey.

So what can you do? If a hectic work schedule is ruining your sleep quality, Veasey notes that other factors can worsen neuron loss, such as a high-fat diet, a sedentary lifestyle, and diabetes. Your best bet, in this situation, is to control these factors in order to minimize the loss of neurons.

Readers: Do you pull all-nighters? How does it usually make you feel?

Sources:
Sleep Loss Causes Loss of Neurons in the Brain, According to New StudyHuffingtonPost.com
Press Release: Study Finds Poor Sleep Increases Neuron Loss By 25%EurekAlert.org

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