Stupid all-nighters: Sleep deprivation may kill brain tissue

Studying is good, but all-nighters are not. A new study shows the ill effects of sleep deprivation on the brain.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Is sleep deprivation equivalent to a kick to the head?

Could be. Researchers at Sweden’s Uppsala University looked at what happened when healthy people pulled an all-nighter. Scientists found chemicals in their blood that were markers of brain damage.

The researchers kept 15 strapping young men up all night to look for signs of “neuronal damage, impaired blood brain barrier function or both,” according to the study published in the journal Sleep.

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Levels of the chemicals NSA and S-100B in the subjects’ blood rose -- a sign that lack of sleep could mean loss of brain tissue, Uppsala professor Christian Benedict told the Daily Mail. The levels didn’t jump as high as they would after a head injury, “but it was still significant.”

And this was just one all-nighter.

It was a small study and more research is needed, the scientists said. But the findings fall in line with earlier research showing the brain uses sleep time to clear out the cobwebs.

As the Los Angeles Times’ Melissa Healy reported, during sleep the brain refreshes itself, clearing out the buildup of mental metabolites such as beta-amyloid and tau, “the byproducts, if you will, of a day’s cogitation.”

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