According to new research published in the Journal of Neuroscience, just one night of sleep deprivation can cause damage to the brain similar to that of a mild concussion.
The study, done at the University of Pennsylvania, found that mice that slept for short, inconsistent periods of time lost 25 percent of the neurons in their locus coeruleus, the section of the brain associated with cognitive function and alertness.
According to Dr. Sigrid Veasey, the lead neuroscientist on the study, this is the first time scientists have been able to show that sleep loss actually results in the loss of neurons.
Dr. Veasey and her team believe that these same results would be found in humans. Sleep is necessary for maintaining metabolic homeostasis in your brain, so sleeping for short or inconsistent periods of time causes mitochondrial stress, which causes cells in the brain to die off faster.
"When a normal person sleeps, they will cycle between deep and REM sleep throughout the night," says sleep guru and yoga expert Anandi. "Deep sleep is a nourishing sleep that physically restores your body, whereas REM sleep is a lighter sleep, associated with dreaming. Both are necessary. If you aren’t getting enough sleep at night, then chances are you probably aren’t getting into the deep sleep phase. Not getting deep sleep will cause your body to be in a constant state of stress."
We know, we know, it’s hard to clock in those seven hours during the week. And hey, what are the weekends for if not to catch up on missed sleep?
Unfortunately, researchers also found that catching up on your "sleep debt" over the weekend won’t help fix the damage you’ve already done to your brain.
What’s more, if you are continually sleep deprived, you are likely to suffer from more than just brain damage. High blood pressure, memory loss, mood swings, depression, trouble focusing, and weight gain can all result from not getting an adequate amount of sleep.
For a better night’s sleep, Anandi recommends getting into the habit of unplugging every night before going to bed.
"Spend 20 minutes each night winding down. Make yourself a bedtime ritual. Just like you get up in the morning and wash your face and brush your teeth, make your sleep routine just as much of a habit."
Shut down electronics, listen to soft music, meditate, do some easy stretching or yoga poses, breath deeply — anything that will relax your mind and put you into a more peaceful state and get you ready for bed.
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