Lost sleep leads to loss of brain cells, study suggests

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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. "


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  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    I love how people complain about this being "not news" and complain about HYS. Sorry but journalists aren't here to measure YOUR opinion, we don't give two damns about the publics opinion we just want the damn facts and will make up our own opinions based on the evidence thank you.
    Get rid of all HYS articles is what I say, it just enables the mouth-breathing public to vent their uneducated guff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.


    Exercise helps you sleep.

  • 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 194.

    184. bhscolleen : shift workers have a significantly higher risk of cancer than those who work through the day. The army train you to function for about 48-72hrs without sleep (because thats how long most full on wars will last before one side can't stay awake anymore). The implications for cancer therapy & the next major war seem fairly important to me. You?

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    ...And makes Mrs Thatcher's famous 4 hours the problem it was//

    Shows how low the left are, really. Still having a pop at Thatcher, and still not funny.

    Benn incorporated much that was worst about the horrible, left of his era, but the reaction from his foes wasn't the same as the left's disgusting show re Thatcher

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    If this proves to be correct then many of the people I come across must have gone without sleep for their entire adult lives :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Alcohol destroys brain cells, and now they reckon a lack of sleep destroys them too.

    I'd be starting to regret some of the all-night partying I've done over the years if I could remember it. :o)

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Does that explain why those with fewer brain cells spend the day trying to catch up on their sleep

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    I've always needed a good 10 - 12 hours sleep, something that hasn't altered since I was a kid and I'm in my 50s now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    Nature will find a way to circumvent a scenario whereby humans can eventually become immortal. If we are immortal, then nature will see it that our reproductive systems can be less efficient. Fuelling the event decline in our species due to work place accidents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    //A St Andrean in exile
    More piffle and tish tosh .. pandering to today's mamby-pamby Brits!

    Many of the greatest minds were workaholics who toiled without stopping for days on end, who only slept a couple of hours here and there. Examples include Brunel, Thatcher,.. Churchill, Mozart...//

    Leaving aside your idiotic racism, the key point is, the people you mention were exceptions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    It sure works... asleep at the moment...using the force to write this, with my new amazing interlect.....
    Terrible nightmare though... should not have had that last carrot...sleeping on a nice comfy bed of lettace...zzzz zzz zzzz

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    @183 Yes research suggests many things. The proof of the pudding comes when multiple individual studies all point in the same direction in a reproducible manner.

    So with one report you indeed get a nice headline and you are right to remain critical. However, this is certainly not an "utter waste of time" but another incremental step to understanding how the brain and sleep actually function.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    I always have to ask how did civilization come so far before such "research"? And the other question, "What would these "researchers" do for gainful employment?"

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    Here we go with another "research suggests" survey. Scientists say lack of sleep is bad, next month they'll say lack of sleep is good, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

    My research suggests that these "research suggests" surveys are an utter waste of time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    This must be true, because Margaret Thatcher reputedly only slept for two hours per day!

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    Sounds left to me....Eienstein had 35 hours sleep every day..using his faster-than-dream theory.
    I've just had 40 winks..smartest rabbit in the burrow now.... must be true..
    Off to bed again...goodnight all...zzz zzz zzz

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz !

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Is that a self-service alarm clock, which you have to hit with a hammer to make the bells ring ...


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