Brain starts to 'eat itself' on six hours of sleep, study finds

The study is cause for alarm.

Early risers, night owls, people who love to sleep in … Different sleep patterns work for different people. But a study has found that anyone who regularly gets fewer than six hours of sleep each night is facing a serious health risk. 

“Sleep plays an important role in regulating the hormones that influence hunger (ghrelin, cortisol, and leptin) that’s why sleep deprivation increases appetite and leads to overeating and weight gain,” neuroscientist Dr Adrian Owen tells Digital Journal.

When sleep-deprived, astrocytes, which work to clean up other weakened cells, are more active. 

“Portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss,” Michele Bellesi, lead author of the study, tells New Scientist.

These “clean-up” cells aren’t always a bad thing; our brains, like anything else, need to be cleaned out every so often. But this activity usually occurs when we’re sleeping and our bodies are better able to repair themselves. Requiring our bodies to function on too little sleep means that they’re not getting the “downtime” needed for essential maintenance. 

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The studies outline that adults require between seven to nine hours of sleep each night, while adolescents typically require a bit more. However, around 30 per cent of adults in the United States and 66 per cent of adolescents are regularly sleep-deprived.

Those who regularly get fewer than six hours of sleep each night are more at risk of a stroke and obesity; Bellesi also points out that those with regular sleep deprivation are also more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

For some, fixing the problem may be as simple as adjusting their sleep schedule. For others, getting the recommended amount of sleep is a bit more difficult and may require help from a medical professional. 

How often do you miss out on the recommended amount of sleep?