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Sleep deprivation may have detrimental long term effects on your brain, says study

The research findings are troubling, especially if you work an important job like air traffic controller. (AP Photo/File)

We’ve all felt the effects of a poor night’s sleep: It calls for extra caffeine, it makes it difficult to focus at work or at school and it can ruin your whole day.

That might not just be tiredness, it could also be brain damage.

A new study by Sigrid Veasey, MD, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, shows shift workers, like construction workers, truckers, air traffic controllers, police, even broadcasters on my schedule, who regularly deprive themselves of adequate sleep, might suffer long-standing or permanent brain damage.

Local sleep expert Dr. Gandis Mazeika said in this case Veasey used mice to reach her conclusion, putting them on a sleep schedule similar to a shift worker.

“In this particular case, she’s observed a loss of very important neurons in a part of the brain called the locus ceruleus which mediates alertness,” said Mazeika. “One of the primary centers that mediates alertness in humans, as well as all mammals, like mice.”

The research findings are troubling, especially, if you work an important job like, air traffic controller.

“If Dr. Veasey research proves to be correct, it’s likely that chronic sleep deprivation will cause people to, for lack of better terms, lose their edge. Be a little less vigilant, or a little less alert at times when they most need it.”

In this study, it was discovered that the brain will try to protect itself from the damaging effects of sleep deprivation, but after years of abuse it can’t keep up.

“When the cells are under stress, like those that might be caused by sleep deprivation, (Veasey) determined that under this particular mouse model, if you restrict sleep a little bit in a mouse, the sirtuin levels go up as if the cells are experiencing stress,” explained Mazeika. “They’re secreting this substance to protect themselves from the stress. However, it’s not a sustained response and so if you subject them to sleep deprivation over long periods of time, the sirtuin levels seem to go away. It’s almost like it’s exhausted and it can’t continue these high levels of secretion in the body.”

This leads us to the latest development out of the Seattle School District.

The school board just took its first big step in possibly starting school later to allow kids to get more sleep. They have ordered a committee to study the pros, cons and cost.

Dr. Mazeika is a big proponent of later start times.

“It underscores the importance of adequate sleep for children, so many of our children are being subjected to and environment that is not conducive to optimal sleep, ” said Mazeika.

He expressed concern over the activities kids take part in at night like watching TV, playing video games texting, instant messaging, or being on their computers too late at night.

“Then they’re forced to get up really early in the morning. The way our school system is set up, we’ve been held hostage by the bus transport companies in large part, which need to stagger their shifts in order to get kids to go to school on time,” said Mazeika. “Sometimes our high school kids are needing to get up at 5 a.m. to be able to make it to the school bus, to be able to get to school on time which is crazy because then they don’t end up sleeping enough hours.”

So, what can we do until the school board makes its decision on later start times? Or if we can’t change our jobs with odd hours?

Mazeika said to make sure that when you get home from your night shift that you’re going to a room that is quiet, that is dark, where the phones are turned off and there are no potential interruptions. That way, you’re “able to do your duty, which is to sleep an adequate number of hours to feel restored and refreshed the next day.”

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