By Joe Mathieu, WBZ NewsRadio 1030

BOSTON (CBS) – I’ve done my share of sleep stories here. They usually remind us that we don’t get enough rest and eventually that will mean health problems.

But a new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania raises the bar to a new level.

Their work, published in the Journal of Neuroscience and reported by US News & World Report, finds extended periods of sleeplessness can actually kill brain cells.

Those cells – or neurons – help to control our cognitive performance, focus our attention and they even help to set our moods.

Scientists discovered this by testing lab mice. Some were allowed to sleep and others were forced to stay awake for various lengths of time.

They found a 25 to 30 percent increase in loss of brain cells in the mice that stayed awake the longest. They also found evidence of stress inside the neurons that kept them from communicating with each other.

So that may be why we can’t seem to think straight when we’re really tired.

And I’m afraid there appears to be little we can do to restore our brain cells.

Our bodies are always making cells but researchers in this case say the brain damage incurred by not sleeping for extended periods (think all-nighters) is permanent. They refer to something called genetic deletion which makes it more difficult for the brain to protect itself.

It also makes it harder for the remaining cells to function properly.

And so it may be impossible, they say, to truly make-up for lost sleep. Or for that matter your bad mood.

Follow Joe on Twitter @joemathieuwbz



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