Getting enough sleep is like eating clean. Most of us strive to do it consistently, but there's always that odd day (or night, in this case) that throws us a little off track. And that's not for lack of trying, either. (How many times have you gone to bed as per usual, only to lay awake for hours, unable to quiet your mind? For us, the answer is a lot).
A night of poor sleep is never exactly beneficial to you, but in most cases it’s not going to significantly affect your long-term health. Multiple sleepless nights, on the other hand, just might. A 2017 study that was published in The Journal of Neuroscience evaluated the biological and chemical effect of sleep deprivation on lab mice. The results were scary; they found that the brain actually starts to inflict damage on itself after extended periods of wakefulness. Keep reading to learn more about the science behind sleep deprivation.
Researchers split lab mice into four different groups. First was the "well-rested group," which slept for six to eight hours a day. The next group of mice were allowed to sleep, though they were periodically woken up throughout. The third group stayed awake for an extra eight hours before getting to rest, and finally, the fourth group was kept completely awake for five days straight.
After this period, the researchers studied each group's brain activity. They found that the process of phagocytosis "increased after both acute and chronic sleep loss relative to sleep and wake." What is phagocytosis, you ask? Phagocytes are specialized cells that engulf (aka eat) other cells and materials. Our brains need phagocytes in order to "clear away the toxic byproducts of neural activity from the day." The issue is, that after sleep deprivation is involved, the brain kicks the process into overdrive, which can be harmful. "These results suggest that chronic sleep loss … may predispose the brain to further damage," the report states.
This is scary stuff, but don't panic if your sleep schedule isn't in tip top shape. Instead, use this information as motivation to establish a consistent bed time routine. Whether it's a gentle yoga flow, a warm bath, or a little aromatherapy (we like S.W. Basics Lavender Essential Oil, $12), it will signal your body to wind down and relax. Keep it up over time, and this habit will help you achieve that perfectly sound, revitalizing sleep we all crave.
Bellesi M, de Vivo L, Chini M, Gilli F, Tononi G, Cirelli C. Sleep loss promotes astrocytic phagocytosis and microglial activation in mouse cerebral cortex. J Neurosci. 2017;37(21):5263-5273. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3981-16.2017