Discovery that sleeplessness causes neurons to become ‘muddled’ with electrical activity could help develop new treatments for mental health disorders
In a study published on Tuesday, researchers show for the first time that sleep resets the steady build-up of connectivity in the human brain which takes place in our waking hours. The process appears to be crucial for our brains to remember and learn so we can adapt to the world around us.
The loss of a single night’s sleep was enough to block the brain’s natural reset mechanism, the scientists found. Deprived of rest, the brain’s neurons seemingly became over-connected and so muddled with electrical activity that new memories could not be properly laid down.
But Christoph Nissen, a psychiatrist who led the study at the University of Freiburg, is also excited about the potential for helping people with mental health disorders. One radical treatment for major depression istherapeutic sleep deprivation, which Nissen believes works through changing the patient’s brain connectivity. The new research offers a deeper understanding of the phenomenon which could be adapted to produce more practical treatments.
“Why we sleep is a fundamental question. Why do we spend so much of our lives in this brain state? This work shows us that sleep is a highly active brain process and not a waste of time. It’s required for healthy brain function,” said Nissen.
The results are a boost for what is called the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis of sleep, which was developed by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2003. It explains why our brains need to rest after a day spent absorbing all manner of information, from the morning news and the state of the weather, to a chat over lunch and what we must buy for tea.
Pretty interesting stuff !
Read the full article at the guardian.com