Fatigue Research/studies Shift work

Lack of sleep may damage shift workers’ brains

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Photo: RyanSebastyan/iStock/Thinkstock

Philadelphia – Chronic sleep deprivation may cause lasting damage in the brains of shift workers, suggests a new study from the University of Pennsylvania.

As part of the study, researchers put mice on a sleep-wake schedule simulating shift work and then examined their brains. They found the mice lost 25 percent of their locus coeruleus neurons, which help control alertness.

Researchers hypothesized that as the mice first began losing sleep, their brains adapted by making more of a protein that coordinates energy production. However, as the mice continued to lose sleep, production of the protein decreased and the locus coeruleus neurons began deteriorating.

The study was published online March 19 in the Journal of Neuroscience.