Sleep Deprivation May Destroy Brain Cells

Did You Know…that inadequate sleep can cause brain cell death?

Everyone knows that sleep deprivation feels awful and compromises your health, but have you heard yet that your brain cells might be destroyed if you don’t get enough sleep? 

New research from the Mexican Metropolitan Autonomous University (UAM) indicates sleep loss can leave your brain vulnerable to attacks from neurotoxic molecules that impair and destroy nerve cells in the brain called neurons.

Is Your Brain Susceptible to Toxic Agents? 

According to scientists from UAM, chronic lack of sleep can sleep degrade a part of the central nervous system called the blood-brain barrier.  That barrier is crucial, because it prevents neurotoxic elements from entering the brain.  Without adequate sleep, your body is unable to maintain the joints vessels in the blood-brain barrier, meaning toxic agents can penetrate into the brain.

After entering into your brain tissue, these agents may alter neuron function or even kill neurons.  Many substances we regularly ingest become seriously dangerous if allowed to cross over the blood-brain barrier.  Studies show, for instance, that monosodium glutamate (a flavoring agent found in many packaged foods) can overstimulate neurons, causing them to die.

Why Sleep May Be Evading You 

A number of culprits can be responsible for poor sleep, but one of the most prevalent and least understood comes from a glitch in your brain’s default mode.  If you have churning thoughts, tensions, and restlessness that make it challenging to fall asleep and stay asleep, you may have an overactive Default Mode Network (DMN).

In simple terms, the DMN is the brain’s autopilot system.  When you’re not focused on any particular thing in the outside world, your DMN takes over.  Activities like daydreaming… imagining your future… recalling your past… and evaluating someone else’s viewpoint all engage your DMN.

Understanding the Brain’s Autopilot System 

All the way back in 1929, an inventor named Hans Berger proposed the theory that the brain remains active at all times.  But his ideas were not accepted during his lifetime.  Nearly a century later, neurologist Marcus E. Raichle demonstrated that the brain constantly consumes energy, even when a person is not focused on anything in particular.  In 2001, Raichle coined the term “default mode” to refer to activity that occurs while your brain is seemingly resting.

Sleeping and sleep deprivation both appear to be intricately connected to your DMN.  More studies are needed to explore those links.

What to Do When Counting Sheep Won’t Cut It 

Recent findings show acupuncture can deactivate the DMN.  Another investigation of brain structures found significant changes in DMN activation for meditation practitioners.  Both acupuncture and meditation are known to beneficially impact your health in other ways as well.

While we wait to learn more about the inner workings of the DMN, take action today to improve your sleep quality by exploring either (or both!) practice.

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