As we sleep, toxic byproducts from the brain and nervous system are cleaned by glial cells. Microglia cells ingest dead and worn-out cells to keep one's body in working order. Another part of the cleanup crew, astrocytes or astroglia, cut down unnecessary synapses to help the brain process information faster. For short, these cells "clean up" your brain when you sleep to help it work better the next day.
While this process is very important in taking care of one's brain, not everyone gets ample of sleep. This, in turn, disrupts its natural process which is dangerous. In fact, a new study even found that depriving yourself of a good sleep can make your brain eat itself.
Utilizing mice for their experiment, researchers divided these into four groups. The first group can sleep as long as they wanted, the second group were woken up on a specific time, the third group were deprived of sleep for eight hours, and the last group were "chronically sleep-restricted" for five days straight.
Results showed that the well-rested mice's astrocytes were active in 6 percent of their brains' synapses. However, it increases to 8 percent when deprived of just eight hours of sleep. This even increases to 13.5 percent when "chronically sleep-restricted"- at this point, the astrocytes goes into overdrive and the brain starts to "eat" itself. Michele Bellesi from the Marche Polytechnic University in Italy and author of the study told New Scientist
, "We show for the first time that portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss."
But the microglia's activity was actually more interesting. They were more active after chronic sleep loss, with continued activation linked to brain diseases like dementia and Alzheimer's. "Chronic sleep loss activates microglia cells and promotes their phagocytic [digesting waste] activity, apparently without overt signs of neuroinflammation, suggesting that extended sleep disruption may prime microglia and perhaps predispose the brain to other forms of insult," the authors write on their study. This means that extreme loss of sleep can cause microglia to overdrive, consequently making it eat unwanted (and possibly healthy) cells.
But further studies are still needed to verify whether microglia activation and astrocye activity helps or destroys the brain during long hours without sleep. But with different sleep loss studies
, I bet you still need your good night sleep.