Sleep Loss May Lead to Brain Damage


Naps on the weekends don’t make up for pulling all-nighters or having extended periods of wakefulness. For years now, it has been accepted wisdom that people with “sleep-debt” during the week can make up the sleep debt on the weekends. Although this was not an ideal situation, sleep experts have accepted the “sleep-debt” viewpoint for their patients. In a study released last week in The Journal of Neuroscience conducted by Pennsylvania State University, it was found lower amounts of sleep can lead to irreversible damage to brain cells. The discovery that sleep loss for long-term periods of time can result in a loss of brain cells is a first in sleep research. The study was conducted by Dr. Sigrid Veasey an associate professor of Medicine and a member of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at Penn State’s school of medicine. Mice were tested with periods of normal rest, short wakefulness, and extended wakefulness, to model the sleep pattern of a shift worker. A shift work schedule is one that serves customers on a 24-hour schedule, such as nursing, hospitality, and restaurants. The mice that were exposed to the sleep conditions like a shift worker had brain damage. The scientists looked at a specific group of nerve cells known to be associated with alertness and brain functioning. In this area, the mice lose 25% of these neurons. Dr. Veasey said, “After several days of shift worker sleep patterns, the neurons in the mice began to display increased cell death, and the mice lost 25 percent of these neurons.”

The most jolting finding of this study was, “no one really thought that the brain could be irreversibly injured from sleep loss” (Veasey). The greatest lesson of this study is the thought of sleep being more important than it was previously believed to be. In the past, says Dr. Veasey, “No one really thought that the brain could be irreversibly injured from sleep loss. It’s now clear that it can be.”

While research has yet to be conducted on humans, the researchers plan to analyze the brains of deceased shift workers to check for the same kind of nerve damage. The goal is to develop long-term solutions for shift workers to protect their brain health. Currently, there are some medical solutions available to shift workers but more research leads to more knowledge and possibility for the development of useful medications or other solutions.

If you are a shift worker or fell that your sleep pattern is negatively impacting your health, contact FusionSleep today to schedule a consultation with our sleep experts. Don’t maintain a negative sleep cycle because the effects can be detrimental.