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We all know that sleep is crucial to our health, but it’s easy to write it off as one of those things we should do when we have the chance. It turns out that skimping on sleep isn’t just bad for your body, but it can damage the brain as well.

Short and Long-Term Effects of Sleep Loss

Sure, a day or two of poor sleep can make us feel groggy, cranky, and unable to concentrate as well. However, those short-term effects aren’t the only things going on. Researchers have proven that sleep loss and extended periods of wakefulness can create long-term damage to the brain, including killing off neurons.

Neurons are the primary brain cells in our nervous system, helping us feel the five senses, register that we’re in pain, and much more. Damage to these neurons can result in mood disorders and decreased cognitive performance. 

The Mice Study

Researchers conducted sleep experiments on lab mice at the University of Pennsylvania. They had three groups of mice: one that slept normally, one that was kept awake for three extra hours each night, and another that was kept awake for an additional eight hours.

The experiment lasted for three days, after which the scientists took brain tissue samples from the mice. The third group of mice experienced a 30% decrease in brain neurons and showed symptoms of oxidative stress. This occurs when free radicals overwhelm the body’s natural defense system. While more research is needed to see if these effects would be similar in humans, it’s a wake-up call (pun intended) for many people.

Optimizing Sleep

If you want to get better sleep, it’s time to start making it a priority in your life. Proper sleep hygiene, as they call it, is critical to getting quality shut-eye. Start by keeping a regular bedtime and removing distractions, such as work and technology, from your bedroom.