Your body and your brain constantly go through cellular cleansing processes. In the brain there are two types of glial cells that are responsible for clearing out old or damaged cells and synapses.

Microglial cells initiate a process called phagocytosis to remove debris, pathogens and dead cells from the brain. Astrocytes are supporting cells that provide structural support, insulate surfaces and protect the brain during inflammation and injury. These are complementary roles that help repair and restore the brain while you sleep and get you ready for a new day. Normally, that’s a good thing.

But when you don’t get enough sleep, astrocyte activity increases and the cells actually start to exhibit behavior similar to the microglial cells, eating waste and engaging in excessive cleansing — a physiological process called astrocytic phagocytosis.

When this happens, instead of targeting only dead or damaged cells, the astrocytes start to eat away and destroy healthy synapses too. Over time, this can lead to chronic brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of neurodegeneration, like Parkinson’s disease.

Although it’s a big problem, increased astrocyte activity and destroyed brain synapses aren’t the only problems associated with chronic sleep deprivation. If you’re not getting enough good quality sleep, it can also lead to several acute and chronic symptoms and health conditions, including:

  • Increased risk of accidents due to decreased vigilance and longer reaction times
  • Fatigue and restlessness
  • Reduced ability to perform tasks
  • Impaired cognitive ability and memory
  • Lack of motivation
  • Decreased productivity at work
  • Increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure6
  • Imbalanced hunger hormones and weight gain
  • Increased risk of depression, anxiety and mental disorders
  • Increased irritability
  • Diminished immune system and increased susceptibility to infection
  • Increased likelihood of alcohol abuse
  • Decreased life expectancy

How much sleep do you need? Read more…

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