Why does our brain need sleep? It seems that sleep loss affects memory consolidation.
Researchers from the University of Pensylvania and the University of Groningen determined that sleep loss affects memory.
At first, the research team used a silver staining technique, called Golgi’s method, in order to examine the density and length of neural dendrites in the hippocampus of the mouse brain. What they discovered was that five hours of sleep deprivation in mice results in a loss of connectivity between neurons in the hippocampal area CA1.
The team already knew from previous work that three hours of sleep is enough to bring the length and density of dendrites back to normal. Based on that, the researchers repeated the test but this time, they let the mice rest for three hours afterward. This recovery time reversed the structural alterations caused by the five-hour sleep deprivation.
As the co-author Robert Havekes explains, one of the objectives of the study was to determine the role of the protein Cofilin in the negatives effects of sleep loss. The experiment revealed that blocking this protein prevents the neuronal structural changes and makes the memory more resilient to sleep loss.
This study emphasizes the importance of sleep for our memory. Sleeping disorders such as insomnia and apnea are common in modern societies and they can cause sleepiness. This, in turn, can affect brain function, emotions, and health in general.