According to a new study, our brain starts to eat itself if it hasn’t had enough sleep.
Researchers who studied lab mice, found that ‘clean-up’ cells were more active in their brains when they lacked sleep.
The cells, known as astrocytes, act like mini Hoovers in the brain, sweeping up cells as the brain’s connections become weak and break apart.
‘We show for the first time that portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss,’ lead author Michele Bellesi told New Scientist.
According to the research team at Italy’s Marche Polytechnic University, the seemingly alarming process is actually a positive thing.
‘They [our synpases] are like old pieces of furniture,’ Bellesi said. ‘And so [they] probably need more attention and cleaning.’
But he added that sleep-deprived brains showed ominous signs of activity that leads to Alzheimer’s. When mice lacked sleep , brain cells called microglials were more active.
‘We already know that sustained microglial activation has been observed in Alzheimer’s and other forms of neurodegeneration,’ Michele said.
The news comes on the heels of research that showed having too little sleep could put people at risk from heart disease.
The study found that having less than six hours sleep a night was associated with a higher risk of death in people with metabolic syndrome – a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.