Feeling exhausted? The struggle bus hit you? If you’re going on very little sleep, and feeling like you’re brain just isn’t working, it’s probably because it’s busy eating itself.
Yup. Sleep deprivation can actually cause parts of the brain’s synapses to be “eaten” by other brain cells, according to a new study by researchers at the Marche Polytechnic University in Italy.
Lead researcher Michele Bellesi analyzed the brains of mice that had been separated into four groups. The first group was left to sleep for six to eight hours, the second was periodically woken up from sleep, the third was kept awake for an extra eight hours and the last group was kept awake for five days straight.
Bellesi found that astrocytes—abundant glial cells in the brain that clean out worn-out cells and debris so electric impulses can be transferred smoothly between neurons (get all that?)—were more active when the mice had been deprived of sleep. So, they broke down more of the brain’s connections than necessary.
“We show for the first time that portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss,” she told New Scientist.
Perhaps more disconcerting: Microglial brain cells, which account for around 15 percent of all brain cells, were also more active for the mice that’d experienced chronic sleep deprivation.
The problem? Science has already proven that sustained microglial activation has been observed in Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders.
So the next time you pull an all-nighter and go into work the next day feeling like the walking dead, think about the fact that your insides are legitimately eating your own brains. That’s some zombie shit.