A lack of sleep can cause parts of the brain’s synapses to be ‘eaten’ by other brain cells, according to a new study by researchers at the Marche Polytechnic University in Italy.

Astrocytes are a cell in the brain that clean out worn-out cells and debris. Scientists studying the brains of mice found these cells were more active when the animals had been deprived of sleep, breaking down more of the brain’s connections.

“We show for the first time that portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss,” research leader Michele Bellesi told New Scientist.

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