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Researchers find sleep loss causes brain damage in mice

There are a lot of ways that a person can suffer a brain injury. From slips and falls to motor vehicle accidents, a brain injury is often caused by a sudden impact to a person’s brain. This has always been the long-standing belief held by millions the world over. But researchers at the University of Pennsylvania may have turned this assumption figuratively on its own head.

With their research, scientists wanted to answer one question: could sleep deprivation be having a more significant impact on our bodies than we realize? To answer this question, researchers put mice on a sleep schedule that mirrors that of shift workers, such as truck drivers. By changing how much sleep they got and how long they stayed awake for, researchers say they activated a response mechanism in the mice’s brains that could lead to problems.

According to researchers, the bundle of nerve cells called the locus coeruleus, which is associated with alertness and cognitive function, produces a protein that protects nerve cells during periods of sleep loss. But if losing sleep becomes a habit, this reaction shuts down, which can actually lead to brain damage. In fact, the mice that were part of the study showed a 25 percent loss of neurons in the locus coeruleus.

Researchers admit that further researcher will need to be conducted on humans in order to prove that this form of brain damage is happening in humans as well. But so far, the research might be raising some concerns in the minds of our California readers about their own work schedules and whether they have suffered brain damage as a result of lost sleep. Unfortunately, because of the lack of research, the questions you raise might be difficult to answer anytime soon.

Source: CNN, “Shift workers beware: Sleep loss may cause brain damage, new research says,” Ben Brumfield, Mar. 19, 2014

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