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Loss of sleep could be damaging to shift workers

A new study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania shows that loss of sleep may cause permanent brain damage. According to researchers, the lack of sleep over long periods of time has been shown to rob the brain of power, even days after sleep recovery. A university neuroscientist says that could be a sign of permanent brain damage. The new findings could be important to anyone who regularly loses sleep because of their job, such as truck drivers or shift workers.

Until now, it was commonly thought that sleep deficits could be made up by sleeping longer or taking naps. However, the new research shows that may not be true. Researchers exposed mice to sleep schedules that mimic those of shift workers. Then they let them nap to catch up on their sleep. When they examined the portion of their brain associated with cognitive function and alertness, they discovered a neuron loss of 25 percent.

Scientists believe that when the mice lose a small amount of sleep, nerve cells increase production of a specific protein that energizes and protects the mice. However, that process shuts down when the loss of sleep becomes habitual, causing the loss of brain cells to accelerate. Researchers say this is a new discovery. No one really thought that long term sleep deprivation could cause permanent brain damage. Researchers say more work is needed and studies need to be conducted on humans.

Being tired is only one of many factors that can result in a workplace injury. Employees who are injured on the job may be covered by workers' compensation, and an attorney may assist in preparing and filing a claim for benefits.

Source: CNN, "Shift workers beware: Sleep loss may cause brain damage, new research says", Ben Brumfield, March 19, 2014

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