Scientists announce that not getting enough sleep causes your brain to physically destroy itself.
Sleep deprivation commonly affects a significant percentage of the global population. In the U.S., the CDC found that 35.3 percent of adults get less than seven hours of sleep each night. When you include teens, that percentage could be far greater for the overall population since adolescents are known to stay up into the late hours of the night only to be forced awake before seven in the morning the following day.
Sleep is something most people put off because they’ve procrastinated doing other responsibilities, like studying, finishing work papers, or because they just want to relax into the night with the television. But doing so on a regular basis can increase your risk for neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s.
Researchers found that your brain’s astrocytes, which are like specialized immune cells of the brain that protect your brain from pathogens, also rid your brain of extra synapses to boost your mental efficiency. Microglial cells work in the same fashion by combing your brain and getting rid of debris and dead or damaged brain cells.
They took two groups of mice and let one group go five days without sleeping, while the other group slept as long as they wanted everyday. The well-rested group’s microglial cells and astrocytes were only active in 8 percent of their brains’ synapses, but the sleep-deprived group’s microglial cells and astrocytes were active in 13.5 percent of their brains’ synapses.
They say this increased brain-eating activity may lead to harmful neurodegeneration if it goes on long-term, like if you keep staying up late on weekdays and party until late on weekends. Although these results concern mice, these researchers are fairly sure they significantly represent what goes on in sleep-deprived people.
Sleep Deprivation Can Also Lead to Obesity, Cancer, and Other Diseases
When you don’t get enough sleep, it’s not only bad for your brain but for your whole body. Researchers discovered that your cells express fewer important genes when you don’t get enough sleep. The genes affected include those that regulate inflammation and metabolism.
If your body is more prone to inflammation when you’re sleep-deprived, it can increase your risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and acne. All these diseases are linked with increased levels of overall inflammation.
Since genes affecting your metabolism aren’t working 100 percent, your body will burn less carbs and store more fat and you’ll have higher blood sugar levels. Not only can this also play a role in your obesity risk, but it can increase your risk for diabetes too.
Researchers found that acne is especially susceptible to sleep deprivation. They studied high school students with acne and found that 65 percent of them were sleep-deprived. Since there’s a higher proportion of sleep deprivation in acne sufferers, they concluded that not getting enough sleep can exacerbate or cause acne.
Try Meditation to Get Your Full Night’s Sleep
Sometimes it’s hard to fit in more than 7 hours of sleep per night – especially during exam time and when work gets hectic. It’s a good thing there’s a slight cheat that lets you get more sleep without spending more time sleeping!
Researchers found that meditating in the afternoon for 40 minutes improves your attention and cognitive performance better than sleeping. That means if you’re sleep-deprived and need a brain power boost, use some of your lunch hour to meditate and you’ll supercharge your mental facilities.
They also found that people who regularly meditate need less sleep. Those who meditated regularly needed only 5.2 hours of sleep per night, while normal people usually sleep 7.2 hours.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, meditation can’t totally make up for it. But it can help counter the mental disabilities caused by sleep deprivation. If you meditate everyday, you may also start needing less sleep – and this can help lessen your sleep deprivation as well. But the best thing you can do is get seven or more hours of sleep every night to keep your brain and body healthy.