When Does The Brain Eat Itself? | Community Idea Stations

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When Does The Brain Eat Itself?

How’d you sleep last night? We often talk about how important sleep is because there’s always more and more new research to back up that claim! We've seen the lack of sleep cause lots of damage to the human system, but this new discovery is pretty worthy of making a big deal. After all, how often can we talk about brains being zombies?! Today's big question is: When does the brain eat itself? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.

For example, recently sleep scientists made a huge discovery about how insufficient sleep allows the brain to go zombie on itself. Yeah, it starts to kind of eat itself in the brains!

For this study scientists were studying mice brains. Sure, they’re smaller, but they make for a great testing ground for human issues since we have so much of the same neural infrastructure.

Here scientists were able to look at the Glial cells which kind of act like the brain’s housekeeping system. When we sleep, Glial cells pop into action and clean out damaged cells, toxins, and generally tidy up around the place. We've talked about these cleaning crew cells before so dig through our previous piece if you want more info on these.

What scientists observed this time though was that Astrocytes, star shaped glial cells, became super active in sleep deprived brains. They were so active that not only were they getting rid of the damaged cells, but also perfectly normal ones too. They observed that nearly 13% of the neurons in the brain were being destroyed during periods of insufficient sleep, that would be about 13 billion neurons in the human brain in a lifetime. That’s a lot of brain power lost from just sleep deprived cleanings.

Scientists can now use this information to better understand how chronic lack of sleep impacts neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s. Better understanding our sleep patterns can greatly help us as we work towards a healthier life in general.

For mobile phone users looking to analyze their sleep patterns, there’s an app for that. But, if you’re just tired, remember, there’s a nap for that.