Makin' the Case: Sleepless is no way to live

By Philip Case, Published:

Finally science has proven what we knew all along: plenty of sleep is good for the body, mind and soul — and that shortchanging yourself isn’t a sign of toughness but can rather be detrimental to your health and mental acuity.

Personally, I’m delighted since I’ve always felt more sleep trumps the converse any time!

A recently published report in the Journal of Neuroscience concluded that inconsistent sleep patterns may be hurting your brain, and making up for lost sleep on the weekends doesn’t help since you can’t catch up on “sleep debt.”

“This is the first report that sleep loss can actually result in a loss of neurons,” says neuroscientist Sigrid Veasey from the University of Pennsylvania.

The study concluded missing sleep may lead to brain damage — like the loss of neurons isn’t bad enough!

 “Now I ask you …” to adopt a line from commercials we repeatedly saw for a credit card during the recently completed NCCA Division I men’s basketball tournament, can you afford to lose any neurons?

I know I can’t.

Here’s how researchers arrived at their conclusions:

Veasey and her colleagues studied mice that were submitted to a sleep schedule similar to that of shift workers. They slept for short periods during inconsistent hours.

The researchers found that sleeping for only brief periods of time caused massive brain damage: the mice lost 25 percent of the neurons in their locus coeruleus, the section of their brain associated with alertness and cognitive function.

So a nap’s OK but it won’t replace a good night’s sleep.

The scientists believe that when the mice slept inconsistently, their newer cells would create more sirtuin type 3, a protein meant to energize and protect the mice. But after several days of missing sleep, as a shift worker might, the protein creation fell off and cells began to die off at a faster pace.

 The team plans to study the brains of deceased shift workers next to see if they show similar brain damage.

Our ancestors probably had it right all along: You work when it’s daylight and you sleep when it’s dark. Of course they didn’t have the “benefit” of lights that make it, well, like daytime all the time in buildings — they had to, quite literally, go to bed and get up “with the chickens.”

They may not have lived as long as we are statistically supposed to because of diseases and other challenges, but maybe their brains were in better shape and they didn’t do the whacky things we see daily in our “modern” society.

The simple solution to many of our challenges: Get a good eight hours of sleep every night!

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