When you don't get enough sleep, do you feel the effects your entire next day? Do you feel your head throbbing, experience short-term memory loss, or find yourself incredibly tired for no reason? In a recently published study by researchers at the University of Groningen and the University of Pennsylvania, more information was found regarding how sleep deprivation affects memory.
For the study, a group of mice showed that even five hours of sleep deprivation ultimately leads to a loss of connectivity between neurons in the brain--namely in the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for learning and memory, especially short-term memory generation.
Although it's not yet clear exactly how a lack of sleep impacts brain functionality, the proposed mechanism is that sleep deprivation alters the connectivity between synapses--structures in the brain that allow neurons to send signals to one another. Such changes to brain structure, no matter how seemingly small, can ultimately have a huge impact on memory retention and formation.
In order to pursue the study further, scientists then tested the effects of brief periods of sleep deprivation on dendrites--regions of branched extensions of nerve cells which both receive from and pass on nerve impulses to other parts of the brain. Greater analysis showed that sleep deprivation actually directly impacted the length and density of the dendrites, leaving scientists curious about whether or not a protein responsible for structural changes in the brain--cofilin--was the same one causing the dendrites to shrink.
Turns out, cofilin was the protein affected by sleep deprivation, and the one which ultimately led to the structural modifications in the brain which result in impaired memory function.
However, if you're routinely not getting a good night's sleep, and you're always trying to catch up, there's hope yet. Researchers found that, within the group of mice, those that slept for a 3-hour period after a 5-hour period of sleep deprivation were able to reverse the negative effects on their brains.
So, catch up on your sleep when you can--take a nap--and mend your brain to save even more memories. And be happier and more successful.