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Sleep Boosts Brain Function

By on Sep 17, 2013

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Can sleep boost brain function?

Can sleep really boost brain function?

Did you know that sleep can boost brain function? New research has found that sleep increases the reproduction of cells that form myelin, which is essential for optimal brain function. These findings could lead to new developments about the link between sleep and brain repair. This connection could also lead to future developments regarding the understanding of multiple sclerosis, which is caused by damage to myelin.

The study, which was published in the The Journal of Neuroscience could one day lead to more information about the connection between sleep and brain growth and repair. It has been known for years that genes are turned on and off during periods of sleep and wakefulness. What was not known was how sleep affects specific cells such as oligodendrocytes. These cells make myelin in a healthy brain in response to injury.


What is Myelin?

Myelin is an insulating layer that wraps around nerves, including those in the brain and spinal cord. It is made up of protein and fatty substances. Myelin is essential in allowing nerve signals to be transmitted quickly and efficiently. Damage to the myelin can cause diseases such as multiple sclerosis.


This study which was led by Chiara Cirelli, MD, PhD at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, measured gene activity in oligodendrocytes from mice that slept and those who were forced to stay awake. The results found the genes promoting myelin were turned on during sleep, and the genes causing cell were turned on when the mice stayed awake.

“For a long time, sleep researchers focused on how the activity of nerve cells differs when animals are awake versus when they are asleep,” Cirelli said. “Now it is clear that the way other supporting cells in the nervous system operate also changes significantly depending on whether the animal is asleep or awake.”

Further analysis showed that the production of oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) (cells that become oligodendrocytes) doubles during sleep, especially during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

The researchers suggest that extreme or persistent sleep loss could potentially aggravate the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Cirelli did however say that future experiments may confirm whether or not a link exists between sleep patterns and multiple sclerosis symptoms.