Your Brain Starts Eating Itself After Being Starved of Sleep

Chronic sleep deprivation effects.

Where Sleep deprivation is occurring, it triggers abnormal action of astrocytes. These are the cells that are responsible for the cleansing and regeneration of the brain.

If astrocytes do not function normally, they harm your brain health as they destroy by eating healthy brain synapses. They are leading to a much higher increased risk of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Therefore, having a consistent sleep schedule is critical. It is essential as it keeps the brain healthy, as well as many other chronic health problems.

The daily amount of sleep you need in 24 hours depends on your age, your activity levels, and your overall health. A good general rule for most adults is between seven to nine hours.

You will be already becoming much more aware that a vital component of a good sleep schedule is a healthy lifestyle. However, where you are aware that when you are not getting enough sleep, your brain begins to eat itself?

By this, I don’t mean the literal sense of the word!

I mean that research from the Marche Polytechnic University in Italy has proven that astrocytes (a type of glial cell found in the brain). The normal function of this cell is to remove any unnecessary nerve connections that occur, which starts to break down any healthy nerve synapses that are a response to chronic sleep deprivation.

In the study they carried out, the mice being divided into four groups:

Group A. A well-rested group (who were allowed six to eight hours of sleep);

Group B. A spontaneously awaked group (being periodically woken up during their sleep);

Group C. A sleep-deprived group (who were kept awake for an additional eight hours);

Group D. A chronic sleep-deprived group (that were kept awake for five days straight).

The result that the researchers looked for in each group was the astrocyte activity. The results show exactly how vital the finds were.

In Group A, the well-rested mice showed that 5.7% of brain synapses had astrocyte activity. Group B, the spontaneously awaken mice, had a slight jump to 7.3%. But Group C & D, the mice that were sleep-deprived and chronically sleep-deprived, there was a significate jump in numbers again. 8.4% and 13.5%, respectively.

How the Brain Functions Normally.

To be best able to understand the meaning of this increased astrocyte activity, you need first to understand normal brain functions. Both your body and brain regularly carry out a cellular cleansing process. The brain has two types of glial cells responsible for clearing out any old or damaged cells and synapses.

Microglial cells start a process called phagocytosis, which involves the removal of any pathogens, debris, and dead cells from the brain.  Astrocytes support cells provide structural support and insulate surfaces by protecting the brain during inflammation and injury. These are complementary roles helping repair and restoration to the brain while you sleep and get you ready for a new day. It is a good thing.

However, when you do not sleep enough, astrocyte activity increases, which means that the cells start to exhibit behaviors like the microglial cells. Eating waste and engaging in excessive cleansing — a physiological process named astrocytic phagocytosis.

When this occurs, instead of the astrocyte only targeting dead or damaged cells, the astrocytes also start to destroy healthy synapses as well. It has been found over time to lead to chronic brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of neurodegeneration, such as Parkinson’s disease.

Additional Health Problems Associated With Sleep Deprivation

Although increased astrocyte activity is a big problem due to the destruction of brain synapses. They are not the only problems associated with chronic sleep deprivation. Should you not be getting enough good quality sleep, there are other acute and chronic symptoms and health conditions that this could be occurring. Including:

Increased risk of accidents – due to an increase in reaction times and deceased vigilance

Fatigue and restlessness

Reduction in the ability to perform tasks

Impaired cognitive ability and loss of memory

Lack of motivation

A decrease in productivity at work

Increased risk of heart disease. Diabetes and high blood pressure

Imbalance in the hunger hormones leading to weight gain

Increased risk of depression and anxiety. As well as mental disorders

Increased irritability

Diminished immune system – leading to an increase in your susceptibility to infection

Increased likelihood of alcohol, caffeine, and drug abuse

Decreased life expectancy

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

All the above can show how important it is to make sure you are getting enough sleep. Getting enough sleep will help to avoid damage to the brain and many other chronic health problems. But how much is enough? A general rule of thumb is to get eight hours of sleep. The exact amount of sleep that will be right for you will depend on your age, your overall health, and your daily activities.

The National Sleep Foundation breaks recommendations down by age to make sure you are getting enough sleep:

Age                                                                        Recommended Hours of Sleep

0 to 3 months                                                    14 to 17 hours

4 to 11 months                                                 12 to 15 hours

1 to 2 years                                                        11 to 14 hours

3 to 5 years                                                        10 to 13 hours

6 to 13 years                                                      9 to 11 hours

14 to 17 years                                                   8 to 10 hours

18 to 64 years                                                   7 to 9 hours

65 and older                                                       7 to 8 hours

By keeping in mind, these are general guidelines, and you can evaluate how well you are sleeping. In some cases, getting an hour more or an hour less within your age group recommendation may be more appropriate to you. It will depend on your lifestyle, health circumstances, and how you feel. If you are productive, energetic, happy, and healthy on having seven hours of sleep each night, then there will be no need to bump that up to eight merely based on a chart.

Tips on how to get a Good Night’s Sleep

It is essential to note that getting a good night’s sleep means falling asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed. Reaching deep, restorative sleep, and staying asleep all night. Please note that it does not count as eight hours of sleep if you go to bed at 10 pm and then toss and turn all night until 6 am.

Should you find yourself having trouble getting that good night’s sleep, then there are several things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene. I suggest looking at the following list and seeing if you can make easy adjustments. It is the same as eating a good diet. By Prioritizing these sleep tips, so you are much more likely to achieve optimal rest. By practicing all these things regularly, you will soon be on your way to a good night’s sleep and making sure your brain stays healthy:

Make your bedroom an oasis for sleep — Your bed is for sleep and rest comfortably. There are only two other activities that should be occurring in your bed. Those are reading and engage with your partner in intimate relations. Other things, such as work, computers, cell phones, or watching television, will only reduce the quality of your sleep in the end, so best avoid having them in the room.

Reduce noise from pets or outdoor activities. Many have found that removing their pet from the bedroom has helped dramatically by allowing them to have a quiet night’s sleep. By adding the use of a white noise machine to cover any outside noises can also help too.

Create a soothing pre-bedtime routine — Us as humans are most definitely creatures of habits, by establishing a soothing bedtime routine, the more likely to fall asleep quickly. Take a warm bath, read a good book, or doing some relaxation exercises before bed may help you fall asleep easier. Avoid anything that will trigger your thoughts and imagination. Quiet and calming is best.

When you are having trouble falling to sleep one night, then I suggest it would be best to leave the bedroom and read for 10 minutes than to lie there trying even more challenging to fall asleep. I’d also recommend using blue-blocking glasses if you, to prevent your reading light from further depressing your melatonin production.

Keeping that consistent schedule — Routine is critical here. By going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, it means your body becomes accustomed to the routine. Helping you regulate your circadian rhythm, so you fall asleep and stay asleep all night. Keep a consistent sleep schedule – even at the weekends.

Ensure plenty of bright sunlight exposure – especially the late morning and around noon — Exposure to bright light first thing in the morning helps signal to your body that it is time to wake up. Helping your body set its circadian rhythm. Outdoor natural sunlight is best. By taking a quick walk outside either first thing in the morning and or around noon when the sun is high — gives you more exposure to bright sunlight and helps set internal clocks.

Sundown – ensure your lights are dimmed (or use amber-colored glasses) from around 7 pm. By dimming your lights and turn off electronic devices it will help your brain start to secret melatonin between 7 pm and midnight. By using any devices or having lights on that emit bright lights, it can stifle that process. Meaning your circadian rhythm is thrown out of whack, and your sleep becomes disrupted. After sundown, shift to a low wattage bulb (under 25 watt) with a yellow, orange or red light if you need illumination. Best of all, a salt lamp illuminated by a 5-watt bulb is an ideal solution that will not interfere with your melatonin production. When you have to use a computer or smartphone, install blue light-blocking software like f.lux. The program automatically alters the color temperature on the screen throughout the day, removing the blue wavelengths as the day goes by

More pointers

The easiest solution, however, is to use amber-colored glasses that block blue light. It works like a charm to eliminate virtually all blue light. This way, you don’t have to worry about installing programs on all your devices or buying special light bulbs for only evening use. These simple and easy solutions mean that once your glasses are on, it doesn’t matter what light sources you have on in your house.

Check your bedroom for electromagnetic fields (EMFs) — EMFs disrupt your pineal gland. It is these glands that produce melatonin and serotonin occurs as well as may have other adverse effects. To do this, you need three types of meters, gaussmeter for magnetic fields, electric fields, and RF or radiofrequency fields

Daily Exercise — Your body thrives on exercise and movement, reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders. By exercising more, it will help you get to sleep easier and sleep more soundly. However, please note that your body also releases cortisol during exercise. Cortisol then reduces your melatonin secretion. By ensuring you finish your exercise at least three hours before bed, with the earlier you can, the better where you can.

Keep your room cool — The optimal temperature for sleeping is between 18 – 22 degrees Celsius or 60 – 67 degrees Fahrenheit. By having the room either too cold or too hot, you may experience a more restless night’s sleep. By keeping your thermostat set to the optimal sleep temperature, not only do you allow for a better night’s sleep, but you are making a positive carbon footprint as well 😉

Your mattress and pillow — By ensuring you have a comfortable and supportive mattress and pillow, you can gain a better night’s sleep. It would be best if you considered replacing your mattress after eight to ten years, which is the average life expectancy of a quality mattress.

Download your thoughts before bed — By merely putting all your work away, at preferably 2 hours but at least one hour before bed. By allowing your mind and body a chance to unwind before falling asleep. Removing any anxiety or worrying thoughts about deadlines or the next day’s plans will help towards better sleep. Disconnect from any electronics, like the television or your phone, at least a half-hour before bed.

Before bed, avoid caffeine and alcohol — Drinking alcohol and caffeine in the hours in the run-up to bed can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. Should you need a nightcap, switch to a naturally caffeine-free herbal tea that also promotes relaxation, like chamomile, lavender, or sleep teas, which are now being produced by many leading tea manufacturers such as Twillings. A mug of hot golden milk is also a delicious, relaxing pre-bed drink.

So where now?

I offer individual programs tailored towards your own needs concerning your sleep concerns. In the 4-week program, I walk you through how you can improve your sleep and make sleeping a gratifying and revitalizing experience it should be. To find out more or purchase one of my programs, please click here .

After reading this, you feel you still haven’t got the answers you need; then, I would like to attend the offer of a free 15-minute introductory call with myself.  

During this call, we will have a discovery chat about your current sleep concerns. It will allow us both to find out more about each other, and what help you need with your son’s sleep. It also allows a significant opportunity for me to explain briefly how I work, touching upon the various programs I offer – those being either the sleep sense program or, (if more appropriate) a holistic sleep program.

I feel this is invaluable to us in covering how I would intend to help both you and your sleep in the future with one of my programs should we agree that we are a good match, and I can help you.

The call can be booked via this link.  Selecting the time zone takes you to my availability and allows you to select a suitable time