Did You Know | Health

Lack Of Sleep Literally Eats Away At Your Brain

Have you ever referred to yourself as a zombie when you don't get enough sleep? Turns out, you're not wrong.

A new study from Italy has found evidence that not getting enough sleep will actually trigger your brain to start eating itself. Yikes.

While You Were Sleeping

When you shut your eyes for the night (or a mid-afternoon nap, we don't judge) your brain is doing something pretty weird: it's forgetting most of your day. Your brain will basically wipe the non-essential memories from your mind that won't be needed ever again. This is why you probably wouldn't be able to identify the store hours you saw in a store window while walking by.

All day, your brain grows synapses in order to keep your memories in place.  At night, your brain goes through and destroys, or eats, all the synapses that contain irrelevant information and help keep important memories in your mind. Of course, this doesn't always happen, and that's how you end up forgetting about the big meeting. But in general, that's why sleeping is important.

However, not getting enough sleep can make things a little...well let's just call it cannibalistic.

The Study

Researchers from Marche Polytechnic University in Italy conducted a study involving mice to see how brains react to lack of sleep. Some mice were given eight hours of sleep a night, while some were periodically interrupted. Another group was sleep deprived for just one night, while the others were for five days. The less the mice slept, the more their astrocytes (which do the nightly brain clean-up) went into overdrive. The mice who had a good sleep has astrocytes which stuck to the brain waste, while the deprived mice had astrocytes which ate the working synapses.

Sleepless In Seattle...Or Your Bed

When you don't get enough sleep, your brain starts to eat the good synapses...the ones you actually need. Because it doesn't have a chance to clear out the useless memories, the brain kicks into overdrive and starts going for the good ones. Think of it like when a puppy chews up all it toys and, because you've left the room, it starts to eat the furniture too.

Though it may seem relatively harmless, just forgetting a name or two, your brain targeting the good synapses is pretty dangerous. It lowers your inhibitions and ability to focus, which is why they say driving without sleep is as bad as driving drunk.

In the long run, a lack of sleep can be linked to Alzheimer's due to the brain's constant routine of eating important knowledge.

There are ways you can improve your sleep routine and help your brain only go after the synapses its supposed to.

  • Limit Nap Time: anything longer than 30 minutes can interrupt your nightly sleep routine
  • Exercise: Tire yourself out during the day so you can sleep like a rock at night
  • Get Some Sunlight: fresh air tires you out, and the natural sunlight helps regulate your body clock
  • Cut Out Screens: An hour before bed, step away from your phone, TV, and computer. This helps your body wind down and sets you up for a good night's sleep.

How many hours do you sleep each night?

Meagan has been a writer with Shared for two years and has an intense love for Netflix, napping, and carbohydrates. Please feel free to contact me with questions or story ideas! meagan@shared.com