Your Brain Starts Eating Itself Because of Lack of Sleep

Microglial cells initiate a process called phagocytosis to remove debris, pathogens and dead cells from the brain. Astrocytes are supporting cells that provide structural support, insulate surfaces and protect the brain during inflammation and injury. These are complementary roles that help repair and restore the brain while you sleep and get you ready for a new day. Normally, that’s a good thing.

But when you don’t get enough sleep, astrocyte activity increases and the cells actually start to exhibit behavior similar to the microglial cells, eating waste and engaging in excessive cleansing — a physiological process called astrocytic phagocytosis.

When this happens, instead of targeting only dead or damaged cells, the astrocytes start to eat away and destroy healthy synapses too. Over time, this can lead to chronic brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of neurodegeneration, like Parkinson’s disease. Continue reading…