Lost sleep leads to loss of brain cells, study suggests

Sleep loss Sleep loss is bad for mood and mental processing

Related Stories

Sleep loss may be more serious than previously thought, causing a permanent loss of brain cells, research suggests.

In mice, prolonged lack of sleep led to 25% of certain brain cells dying, according to a study in The Journal of Neuroscience.

If the same is true in humans, it may be futile to try to catch up on missed sleep, say US scientists.

They think it may one day be possible to develop a drug to protect the brain from the side-effects of lost sleep.

The study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, looked at lab mice that were kept awake to replicate the kind of sleep loss common in modern life, through night shifts or long hours in the office.

Start Quote

We now have evidence that sleep loss can lead to irreversible injury”

End Quote Prof Sigrid Veasey University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

A team at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine studied certain brain cells which are involved in keeping the brain alert.

After several days of sleep patterns similar to those followed by night workers - three days of night shifts with only four to five hours sleep in 24 hours - the mice lost 25% of the brain cells, in part of the brain stem.

The researchers say this is the first evidence that sleep loss can lead to a loss of brain cells.

But they add that more work needs to be done to find out if people who miss out on sleep might also be at risk of permanent damage.

Prof Sigrid Veasey of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology, told BBC News: "We now have evidence that sleep loss can lead to irreversible injury.

"This might be in a simple animal but this suggests to us that we are going to have to look very carefully in humans."

She said the next step was to examine the brains of shift workers after death for evidence of any loss of brain cells.

Office workers for IPC Media work late into the night in the Blue Fin Building in Southwark in 2010 Shift work may have permanent health implications

In the long-term, they think it might be possible to develop a medicine that protects brain cells, by boosting a natural chemical involved in sleep recovery.

Prof Hugh Piggins of the University of Manchester said the experiment indicated in a mouse model of sleep deprivation what might go wrong in the human brain.

"The authors draw parallels with night shift work in humans and suggest how chronic sleep deprivation could adversely affect not only our physical, but also our mental health," he said.

"This possibility will need to be tested by a lot more research. Nonetheless, it is consistent with many recent reports of importance of circadian clocks and sleep cycles for optimal well-being. "


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    Sleep! what's that! As a Fibromyalgia suffer 3 hours a night for the last 25 years, does it affect you! Yep. your brain foggy most of the day then dead tired then when it's time for sleep it's like an electric light going on and bing you're awake. You loose your job, unable to concentrate. The boss thinks you're stupid. I'd give anything to sleep 4 hours a night. %-8 has been unheard of for years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Give us a break!
    As I suspect is the case for most people I don't get enough sleep but it's not through choice. There just is not time for proper sleep after work, commuting, eating, washing, etc..
    What doesn't help is all the extra stuff we have to do now like sort the recycling, and the constant advice that we should be spending 3 hours a week or whatever it is on exercise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Can someone tell my 19 month old son this please; Your killing mommy and daddies brain cells. Seriously though since most parents in the early days have no choice but sleep deprevation this information is of no use to us and also many other people in the modern world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    I concentrate and work more should I wake early morning. I have often been unable to get to sleep due to an active mind and I will get up and work away. Ideas are far more active at this time and I find my mind is more creative.
    Some of us have no choice but lack/loss of sleep, working 2 weeks direct nightshift 14- 12 hour shifts the change back causes many sleepless nights

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I can get by on reduced sleep, but it's disturbed sleep which bothers me the most. I read that our brains put short-term memory into "long-term" storage (overnight) while we process the day's events, and if that doesn't happen, we become forgetful and tired the next day. If sleep is disturbed, we can miss that important part of the sleep cycle.


Comments 5 of 6


More Health stories


Features & Analysis

  • BeefaloBeefalo hunt

    The hybrid animal causing havoc in the Grand Canyon

  • Actor Jackie Chan gestures as he stands on the set of his new movie 'Around the World in 80 Days' on 6 May, 2003 in Berlin, GermanyDuang duang duang

    How a new word 'broke the Chinese internet'

  • Sound of Music PosterFar from a flop

    Even Sound of Music film crew surprised by success

  • Don Roberto Placa Quiet Don

    The world's worst interview - with one of the loneliest men on Earth

BBC Future

(Caitlin McNeill)

Do we all see the same colours?

Intriguing science behind #TheDress


  • BatteriesClick Watch

    More power to your phone - the lithium-ion batteries that could last twice as long

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.