Now, a new study has suggested this could be because chronic sleep deprivation can actually cause the brain to eat itself.
In the short term, this might be beneficial - clearing potentially harmful debris and rebuilding worn circuitry might protect healthy brain connections.
Researchers led by Michele Bellesi from the Marche Polytechnic University in Italy found that the brain of mammals is deeply affected by sleep deprivation.
For the study, researchers took several groups of mice and exposed them to different sleep deprivation scenarios.
A third group of mice was kept awake for a number of days to induce chronic sleep deprivation. Astrocytes get rid of worn-out and unnecessary synapses, while microglial cells do the same to damaged cells and debris. There are two types of glial cells: microglial and astrocytes. While you're here.Check out Episode 4 of The JOE Show - Ireland's first social chat show - featuring live studio guest Alison Spittle, we have the craic with Russell Kane and his tidy haircut, music from Tim Chadwick, the best new comedy sketches and Kymann Power tracks down Mark Ronson in Ibiza. But after a while, the damage starts to set in, affecting both neurons (the brain cells) and synapses (the connections between the brain cells); once that happens, even recovering the sleep isn't really clearing the damage.
The researchers observed that in 5.7% of the astrocytes did their work in the synapses of well-rested mice.
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According to the study, astrocytes start breaking down more of the brain refuse.
Also, chronic sleep deprivation ended up in greater indications of the activation of the microglial cells.
The astrocytes would consume the largest and most used synapses. Bellesi warned that these results were more concerning since the low-level constant activation of these cells can end up in serious brain disorders.
The finding could explain why a lack of sleep seems to make people more vulnerable to developing Alzheimer's or similar conditions says Agnès Nadjar of the University of Bordeaux in France.
But the fact that Alzheimer's deaths have increased by an incredible 50 percent since 1999, together with the struggle that many of us have in getting a good night's sleep, means this is something we need to get to the bottom of - and fast. There are no clear records of someone dying due to chronic sleep deprivation, although researchers agree that sleeping is vital for us to function properly.