A recently released study found a new, potential effect for periods of extended sleep loss. Apparently, the brain can still carry out the cleaning process usually performed while sleeping even when awake. But this also takes place at an accelerated rate, and on the long term, can seemingly cause more problems than help.
Research was based on studies and observations of four mice groups and their brains while sleeping or trying to. Study results became available in a paper in the Journal of Neuroscience. These found that astrocytes and microglial cells go into overdrive when the mice are sleep and severely sleep deprived. On the long term, this also affected their processes, as their increased activity started damaging the brain.
Extended Sleep Loss Makes the Cleaning Process Turn Against the Brain
Research was carried out by Marche Polytechnic University in Italy scientists, led by Michele Bellesi. Together with his colleagues, he analyzed the brains of well rested or recently awoken mice. They also took a look at the brain structures of sleep deprived and severely sleep-deprived mice. In an unexpected turn, these were also noted to present the usual brain-cleaning process usually carried out during sleep.
As the body rests, the brain cleans itself up by renewing its cells and getting rid of the day’s unnecessary neural activity. It does so with help from astrocytes, which refresh and renew synapses, and microglial cells. The process actually named “to devour”, phagocytosis, sees the removal of old or worn out cells.
These processes were detected even in severely sleep deprived mice. But in such cases, it was also noted to be far more active, and potentially dangerous as by going into overdrive, it causes severe cleaning. From old and worn cells, microglial cells can seemingly pass to healthy ones. Astrocytes are also far more active in sleepless brains.
“Like many other stressors, extended sleep disruption may lead to a state of sustained microglia activation, perhaps increasing the brain’s susceptibility to other forms of damage,” stated the researchers.
The study team will now try to determine if the same process is also replicated in humans. Also, it will try to establish if getting enough sleep can help recover the connections lost during the excessive cleaning.
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