Can Lack Of Sleep Cause Injury To The Brain?

For all of us that are chronically sleep-deprived a common strategy is simply to catch up on missed sleep during the weekends. According to a recent study this might not be so wise. The study shared hard evidence that chronic sleep loss may be more serious than previously thought and may even lead to physical damage to a our brain cells.

The research is published in The Journal of Neuroscience. In the study, mice were examined following periods of normal rest, short wakefulness, or extended wakefulness, modeling a shift worker’s typical sleep pattern. The study found that in response to short-term sleep loss, LC neurons upregulate the sirtuin type 3 (SirT3) protein, which is important for mitochondrial energy production and redox responses, and protects the neurons from metabolic injury. SirT3 is essential across short-term sleep loss to maintain metabolic homeostasis, but in extended wakefulness, the SirT3 response is missing.

After several days of shift worker sleep patterns, LC neurons in the mice began to display reduced SirT3 and increased cell death, and the mice lost 25% of these neurons. While more research will certainly be needed, the current study provides another confirmation of a rapidly growing scientific consensus: sleep is more important than was previously believed. In the past, scientists really thought that the brain could not be irreversibly injured from sleep loss. It’s now clear that it can be.