Missing sleep may lead to brain damage, according to new research published in the Journal of Neuroscience on Tuesday.
Many assume that naps and sleeping in on weekends can help you catch up on your "sleep debt," but that strategy won't fix the damage you've already done to your brain, says neuroscientist Sigrid Veasey from the University of Pennsylvania.
Veasey and her colleagues studied mice who were submitted to a sleep schedule similar to that of shift workers. They slept for short periods during inconsistent hours. The researchers found that sleeping for only brief periods of time caused massive brain damage: the mice lost 25 percent of the neurons in their locus coeruleus, the section of their brain associated with alertness and cognitive function.
The scientists believe that when the mice slept inconsistently, their newer cells would create more sirtuin type 3, a protein meant to energize and protect the mice. But after several days of missing sleep, as a shift worker might, the protein creation fell off and cells began to die off at a faster pace.
"This is the first report that sleep loss can actually result in a loss of neurons," Veasey said in a statement on the University of Pennsylvania website. The team plans to study the brains of deceased shift workers next to see if they show similar brain damage.