Late-shift workers, students and other night owls take note – a new sleep study from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania has shown for the first time that extended periods of sleeplessness can lead to irreversible brain damage.
While previous studies have shown cognitive performance declines after sleep loss, the latest research challenges the long-held notion that a “sleep debt” could be recovered by makeup rest. Researchers at UPenn and collaborators at Peking University have found extended periods of wakefulness actually kill some neurons and cause damage to others.
Scientists knew there were certain neurons in the brain stem that are awake when we are awake and “sleep when we sleep,” says Dr. Sigrid Veasey, a study author and professor at UPenn’s Perelman School of Medicine.
“This gave us an indication that maybe [the cells] needed their rest,” she says. “We hypothesized that the cells that were going to be the most likely to get injured would be some of the cells that are active during wakefulness.”
These particular neurons located in the brain stem are critical to attention, cognitive performance and also play a role in determining one’s mood.
“So if there’s an injury to these neurons, then you may have poor ability to pay attention and you might also have depression,” Veasey says.
Read more at US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT.