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Study: Odd Sleep Schedules May Lead to Irreversible Brain Cell Damage

Updated: Thursday, March 27 2014, 09:03 AM EDT

Missing out on sleep for consecutive nights may lead to irreversible damage of brain cells, a new study from the University of Pennsylvania finds.

The scientists experimented on mice, by putting them on a crazy sleep schedule similar to what shift workers experience. After having them sleep for short periods then wake up for either short or long periods, researchers looked at their brain functions. They found that the bundle of nerves in the brain, which is associated with alertness and cognitive function, had lots of damage. The mice lost 25% of these neurons.

Researchers also found that if losing sleep became a habit rather than happening only occasionally, the brain cells didn't protect themselves naturally like they should. Even just after a few days of the repeated loss of sleep, the cells started dying off at what researchers said is an accelerated pace.

The study author says this is the first report to show sleep loss can result in brain cell damage and the team plans to continue their researcher by examining the brains of deceased shift workers next to see if the results are similar in humans.

 Their potential end goal -- to develop a medicine that could help people cope with odd work hours.

Study: Odd Sleep Schedules May Lead to Irreversible Brain Cell Damage


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