Search icon


19th Aug 2018

A lack of sleep may cause the brain to start eating itself

Anna O'Rourke

Not getting enough sleep?

This may cause brain cells to eat other parts of the brain, a new study has found.

The brain contains cells known as astrocytes, which work to clear away worn-out brain cells.

However, researchers at the Marche Polytechnic University in Italy recently discovered that astrocytes work at a higher rate in a sleep-deprived brain, according to New Scientist, potentially causing long-term damage.

The researchers compared the brains of mice that had been allowed to sleep for as long as they wanted with the brains of mice that were kept awake an additional eight hours.

A third group of mice was kept awake for a number of days to induce chronic sleep deprivation.

It was found that astrocytes were 6 per cent active in the synapses (junctions which link nerve cells in the brain) of well-rested mice, compared with activity of around 8 per cent in the mice  which had been kept awake for eight hours.

The mice that were chronically sleep-deprived showed astrocyte activity of around 13.5 per cent, over double that of the well-rested mice.

“We show for the first time that portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss,” said lead researcher Michele Bellesi.

This, he said, could provide clues as to why sleep deprivation in humans is linked with Alzheimer’s disease.