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Insomniacs (and shift workers) may be losing brain cells

I've already written about research suggesting that insomnia reduces IQ and cognitive function - now a study has found that sleep deprivation may actually kill brain cells.

Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania found that sleep deprived mice lost up to 25% of certain brain cells.

Researchers attempted to mimic the sleep patterns of modern humans - those who work shifts or long hours in the office.

After the equivalent of 3 days of night shifts with only 4-5 hours of sleep in 24 hours, 25% of the brain cells responsible for alertness and cognition were lost.

This is said to be the first study to find that a lack of sleep can lead to a loss of brain cells.

Further research is needed to determine whether the same effects can be found in humans - if so, it will be proof that sleep deprivation can lead to irreversible brain injury (and hopefully pave the way to the invention of a drug to help protect brain cells).

Source: Penn Medicine

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Last updated: May 14, 2014

This Article Was Written By

Martin Reed

Leave a Comment

  • Musa
    May 19, 2014, 5:14 am

    Thanks for this informative article. I just wanted to ask if there are any studies which support a reversal in the loss of these brain cells lost due to insomnia at this time. Additionally, what’s your opinion on the use of alternative therapies such as herbal medication to mitigate insomnia? Thanks.

    • Martin Reed
      May 27, 2014, 7:10 pm

      I’ve not come across any studies that have demonstrated a reversal of this loss – yet. Hopefully the Penn Medicine study will kickstart more research in this area.

      I am a big fan of insomnia treatments that don’t rely on sleeping pills. I’ve not come across an herbal medicine that I’d declare an effective insomnia treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy is my preferred treatment option for insomnia and I think ‘alternative therapies’ such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture, acupressure and even aromatherapy can improve sleep, too.