How does lack of sleep effects your brain in short term? Likewise, what happens to our brains when we don’t get adequate sleep for a prolonged period?
Everybody knows that sleep is essential for our bodies and brains to function at their best. Otherwise, why would we be spending one third of our lives doing it? Chronic sleep deprivation puts us at a higher risk of various disorders and long term health conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, to name just a few.
It has also been amply demonstrated that the lack of sleep has a negative affect on our cognitive performance. At the cognitive level, the lack of sleep impairs our ability to focus, make judgements, consolidate information and learn new things. In the words of Dr Michael Breus, The Sleep Doctor, “It’s difficult to identify a cognitive skill that isn’t affected by sleep, and compromised by sleep deprivation.”
Yet, while the effect of sleep and the lack of it on our cognitive performance is very well documented, much less is still known about how exactly sleep affects the brain on the cellular level.
However, as brain science rapidly advances, more and more studies appear that begin to fill that gap. Here are four of the most prominent studies of recent years and their findings that looked closely at our sleep deprived brains.
Sleep Allows Your Brain Cells To Repair Themselves
A study published earlier this year in Nature Communications found that sleep is essential for the brain’s ability to repair itself. More specifically, scientists found that during sleep essential DNA repair processes take place in the brain.
In the course of the study, the researchers from Bar-Ilan University observed zebrafish, species that are characterized by having transparent heads. With the use of a powerful microscope, the researchers were able to observe the brain of the zebrafish during sleeping and waking, and took time-lapsed images of individual neurons. They were then able to see that during sleep the process of DNA repair kicked off in their brains, reversing the DNA damage accumulated during the day.
According to the researchers, human brain cells also regularly accumulate DNA damage not only from exposure to radiation and other undesirable conditions but also as a result of the normal brain activity. Sleep allows for these cells to be repaired.
One of the study’s authors, Professor Lior Applebaum, explained why this complicated process takes place while we sleep, by comparing it to repairing potholes in the road. Speaking to Independent, he said: “Roads accumulate wear and tear, especially during daytime rush hours, and it is most convenient and efficient to fix them at night, when there is light traffic.”
The researchers think that this finding might explain the essential role of sleep for all animals with neural system including humans.
Sleep Deprivation Kills Your Brain Cells
In a study that was published in 2014 in the Journal of Neuroscience researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine made an alarming discovery that lack of sleep can result in irreversible loss of brain neurons.
The study was conducted on mice, whose brain is known to be surprisingly similar to the human brain. The mice were put on a schedule similar to the one that is used by people who work night shifts or long hours. In each 24 hour period, the mice got only 4 to 5 hours of sleep.
The results were astounding. After just three day of this schedule, the sleep-deprived mice lost 25% of brain cells in part of the brain stem, the damage that seemed to be irreversible.
According to the study’s authors, because of the similarity between the brains of mice and humans, it is very likely that the human brain suffers from the same loss of neurons when deprived of adequate sleep. This is something that researchers planned to further investigate by conducting autopsies of shift workers.
Sleep Helps Brain ‘Detox’
Another study published in Science around the same time, found that during sleep a sort of detox process takes place in your brain, as it gets rid of harmful waste products, including some that have been linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) who used high-tech imaging to look into the brains of mice and found that their brains behaved very differently when awake and asleep. Specifically, the waste removal process happened ten times faster when the mice were sleeping, flushing out among other things the toxic protein amyloid-beta that is associated with Alzheimer’s.
The clean up process observed by the researchers happens with the help of the cerebrospinal fluid that flows through the spaces between neurons flushing waste into the circulatory system. During sleep, the researchers found, brain cells contract, leaving more space for the cerebrospinal fluid to do its job a lot more effectively.
Sleep Enables Brain Cells to Communicate Effectively
In a fourth study on brain and sleep published recently in Nature Medicine, researchers found neurological explanation to the mental sluggishness that is so familiar to any of us who’ve ever had to take an exam, drive a car or perform any other cognitively demanding activity while sleep deprived. Specifically, the study authors found that lack of sleep severely impairs the ability of brain cells to communicate effectively.
In the study, 12 participants who were preparing to undergo surgery for epilepsy (unrelated to the study) had electrodes implanted into their brains and were asked to stay up the entire night. Several times throughout the night, researchers asked them to categorize images of faces, places and animals as fast as possible. They noticed that as people got drowsier, their reactions got slower. The researchers monitored the brain activity at the same time, paying particular attention to neurons in the temporal lobe, which regulates visual perception and memory. They were able to see that the slowed down response time was due to the less effective communication between their brain cells.
One of the study’s authors, Dr. Itzhak Fried, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) explained in a statement: “We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly. This paves the way for cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us.”
This of course has direct consequences in everyday activities such as driving, and thus can have a fatal affect. “Severe fatigue exerts a similar influence on the brain to drinking too much,” Fried said. “Yet no legal or medical standards exist for identifying overtired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers.”
Have you ever spent a night at a cheap bed & breakfast, only to be kept awake the whole time by itchy bites? Or that time at grandma’s house when you had to snooze in your sleeping bag because something wouldn’t stop biting you at night? Did you realize where the bites were coming from? Yes, they were bed bugs. These little creatures that are often microscopic to the naked eye can make life a living hell. If you have experienced itchy bites when lying in bed, or have actually seen bed bugs in the crevices and seams of your mattress, then it is a problem that you will have to fix. Otherwise, you can go months with these pesky little creatures ruining your sleep.
A lot of people tend to think that bed bugs are a result of an unclean home. But despite keeping your house spanking clean all the time you may be surprised to find bed bugs in your mattress or other upholstered furniture. Bed bugs are quite a nuisance. If your couches, cushions and upholstered furniture have bed bugs in them, it is repulsive enough to keep guests and visitors away from your house. Most importantly, it can make sleeping a nightmare.
This is why the moment you realize your bed or mattress could have bed bugs; you should take the right measures to get rid of the problem. The longer you let the bedbugs remain the more they are going to spread.
What Are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are parasitic creatures, often microscopic to the naked eye. They are cold bed bugs because they live and breed in soft, upholstered surfaces, like mattresses cushions carpets, etc. Unlike dust mites, it is not normal for bed bugs to be present in houses. Dust mites are practically unavoidable and are present virtually everywhere. But bed bugs are not present in every place, which means it is not normal to have them around. If you know you have bed bugs in your house, you should not put up with the nuisance.
Bed bugs are normally found in beddings and mattresses because that is where they can find humans and pets to feed on. They also live in these surfaces and rapidly multiply. Bed bugs can also be found in other areas such as hard to reach crevices, nooks and crannies, under carpets, and even clothing.
The worst thing about bedbugs is that they can enter your home from just one contaminated item, such as an infested piece of clothing. It does not matter how clean your house is; if even one-bed bug enters the place, it will not take long at all to multiply into thousands. If you sleep in a bed bug infestation hotel room or travel on a train or a cruise, the bedbugs you pick up from there can infest your house in a matter of days. Second-hand pieces of furniture can also bring bed bugs into your house.
Because they are parasites, bed bugs are very strong. They can also penetrate through the walls of your house; so if there is a bed bug infestation in your neighbor’s house, your apartment or house will also be affected. Bed bugs usually feed on the blood of humans and other animals, but they can go months without needing to feed, making it hard to eradicate them. A crowded neighborhood or a place with too many humans living in close proximity also leads to bed bugs infestation.
Bed bugs do not spread diseases, but their bites are itchy and uncomfortable. Bed bug bites can also cause skin rashes.
Getting Rid of Bed Bugs – Step-by-Step Instructions
If your bed has been infested by bed bugs, your best solution would be to call pest control and take care of the problem. But if you want to do it yourself, fan following the next few steps should make the job easier:
Step 1: Strip your bed off the sheets and remove all pillowcases and covers. Do not leave them lying around because that will lead to contamination. Put these items in a garbage bag and tightly steal them while taking them to the washer. Wash them thoroughly in hot water.
Step 2: Do not attempt to do anything with the pillows. Simply throw them out. Next, thoroughly vacuum the mattress, making sure to get the seams, crevices and other nooks and corners where bed bugs hide. Do not empty the vacuum cleaner bag inside the house. Empty it outside the house and thoroughly clean the vacuum container to make sure no bed bug can make its way back to the house.
Step 3: For the maximum peace of mind it is wise to throw out the mattress and buy a new one. This will make sure that there are no bed bugs remaining in the house and also spare you the trouble of cleaning the entire mattress and then bug proofing it. A mattress with a removable cover is the best choice because the mattress becomes easier to clean. A removable cover also prevents the bed bugs from entering the mattress. However, if you do not want to purchase a new mattress, then read on for the next steps.
Step 4: To bug proof your bed, put your mattress in a bed bug proof cover. These highly specialized mattress protectors cover the entire mattress with a special material that the bugs are unable to bite through. This removable cover has a zipper that closes so snug that not even one bug can make its way through it. You have to keep on this cover for at least a year to make sure that all the bugs and the eggs have died.
Step 5: Do not forget to kill any bed bugs on the bed frame, cracks, and joints of the bed. If using pesticide, be careful with it and use it according to the instructions on the label. Push the bed away from the wall and encase the feet of the bed in bed bug interceptor cups. These cups have pesticide in them that kill any bug that attempts to climb up the bed. Make sure the sheets, bed skirt or covers don’t touch the floor. Vacuum the floor to remove all traces of bugs.
Eradicating bedbugs is a daunting task. If all else fails, it’s time to call pest control.