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Memory Spring Monthly

Lack of Sleep May Cause Brain Damage


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Do you think that you’re going to catch up on your long term lack of sleep and feel better?  A new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience earlier in March 2014 refutes that belief.  According to University of Pennsylvania neuroscientist, Sigrid Veasey, Long-term sleep deprivation reduces brain of power even after days of recovery sleep which could be a sign of lasting brain injury. 
Veasey and a University of Pennsylvania medical school team put laboratory mice on a shaky sleep schedule that is similar to that of shift workers. They let them sleep, then woke them at various intervals. The scientists then looked at their brains -- more specifically, at a bundle of nerve cells they say is associated with alertness and cognitive function, the locus coeruleus.  What were the results?
The results were that they found significant damage to the locus coeruleus.  The University of Pennsylvania Medical School team found that the mice lost 25% of those neurons. The team believes that when the mice lost a little sleep, nerve cells reacted by making more of a protein, called sirtuin type 3, to energize and protect them. But when losing sleep became a habit, that reaction shut down. After just a few days of "shift work" sleep, the cells started dying off at an accelerated pace. 
According to Veasey, "No one really thought that the brain could be irreversibly injured from sleep loss. That has now changed.”
The next step: Humans. Veasey’s group is now planning to study deceased shift workers to see if they have the same kind of nerve damage.
They hope their research will result in medicines that will help people working odd hours cope with the consequences of irregular sleep.

Want to improve your sleep? Here are a few sleep improvement tips from the National Sleep Foundation ( 

  • Establish consistent sleep and wake schedules (even on weekends)  
  • Create a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath or listening to soothing music - begin an hour or more before the time you expect to fall asleep  
  • Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows
  • Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex (keep "sleep stealers" out of the bedroom - avoid watching TV, using a computer or reading in bed)
  • Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime
  • Exercise regularly during the day or at least a few hours before bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol products close to bedtime and give up smoking
  • Plan the following days activities and tasks the night before to off-load stress while sleeping
What does your sleep routine look like?