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Study: Sleep loss can cause permanent brain damage

Thursday - 3/20/2014, 11:38am  ET

Sleep.jpg
Not getting enough shut-eye can have serious consequences, according to a study. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON -- Pulling all-nighters or doing shift work can do more than leave you groggy -- it can cause permanent brain damage, according to a new study.

Trying to catch up on lost sleep is not effective for the chronically sleep-deprived, according to the study, which was published earlier this week in the Journal of Neuroscience.

In fact, the study found that "chronic sleep loss may be more serious than previously thought and may even lead to irreversible physical damage to and loss of brain cells."

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania put one group of laboratory mice on a sleep schedule similar to a shift worker's typical sleep pattern. After several days of shift-worker sleep patterns, the researchers studied the brains of the mice.

They found damage to a bundle of nerve cells essential for alertness and optimal cognition, called the LC neurons. The mice lost 25 percent of the neurons.

"This is the first report that sleep loss can actually result in a loss of neurons," said Dr. Sigrid Veasey, associate professor of medicine at University of Pennsylvania, in a news release.

When the mice lost smaller amounts sleep, nerve cells reacted by increasing production of a protein, called sirtuin type 3, to energize and protect them. But when the mice habitually lost sleep, the production of the protein stopped and the neurons died much faster, according to the study.

The study magnifies the importance of a healthy lifestyle because some people -- specifically those with diabetes, high-fat diets and sedentary lifestyles -- may be more prone to greater risk of injury to nerve cells.

The big takeaway is that "sleep is more important than was previously believed," the study says.

"No one really thought that the brain could be irreversibly injured from sleep loss," Veasey said in the release.

h/t: CNN

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