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Your Brain Literally Devours Itself When It Doesn't Get Enough Sleep

A brain deprived of sleep will start to consume itself, according to a feature in Science Alert. This finding is a stern reminder of why we do not rest to simply rejuvenate our bodies, but that the brain changes its state during sleep. Quality sleep promotes the biological processes that clear away the toxic debris left by the neurological activity that occurred during waking hours. 

At the core of the process are two types of glial cell. During typical restorative sleep, microglial cells remove burnt-out and old cells during a process known as phagocytosis, while astrocytes rewire and recharge the brain by discarding redundant and unnecessary synapses. Researchers found these activities begin to increase dramatically in sleep-deprived mice. The next step is for scientists to determine how these biological processes may adversely affect human brain health

What they were able to conclude was that cellular level activity goes awry when the brain is chronically deprived of sleep. Rather than ceasing, the culling process accelerates out of control and begins to harm the brain itself. The astrocytes in particular begin to run amok in a fatigued brain and devour synapses in the same manner that the microglial cells clear up waste. This is known as astrocytic phagocytosis. 

One analogy would be to compare your brain to a computer. Under normal circumstances, the microglial cells and astrocytes would clear up space by targeting only superfluous items that are taking up space or tying up system resources. When sleep deprived, this goes completely haywire and start removing important files and media that are not easily replaced. 

It is important to remember that sleep quality matters as much as duration. Are you exhausted after sleeping an appropriate amount of time? If you answered yes, then it may be time to figure out what is interfering with your sleep.  

Human beings have been sleeping at night since time immemorial and light exposure can easily disrupt normal sleep cycles. Your pineal gland produces melatonin roughly in approximation to the contrast of bright sun exposure in the day and complete darkness at night. The sleep difficulties that so many experience can often be linked to the absence of a natural sleep environment.

Your health depends on a regular light-dark cycle that, ideally, starts and stops at the same time each day. Late night artificial light exposure can profoundly influence your physical and mental health and well-being. EMF generating devices can severely disrupt circadian rhythms. You should strongly consider removing electronics from the vicinity of your bed and not using them within several hours of turning in.

It may seem challenging at first, but another goal should be creating a sleep environment that is completely free of light. Blackout drapes are an excellent starting point. I highly recommend investing in a pair of blue blocker sunglasses. I call them reverse sunglasses and wear them in most commercial buildings. Artificial blue light should be avoided at all times, and these affordable glasses reduce the harmful impact of high intensity and LED lighting.

A few other easy to implement tweaks are avoiding alcohol, caffeine and other drugs including nicotine for several hours before bed. I also recommend keeping the temperature in your bedroom below 70 degrees F.  Rejuvenating sleep is one of the fundamental foundations of health, but for millions it is a challenge. Fortunately, there are strategies that can help make sleep a respite rather than a source of frustration.