Wake up and smell the chocolate chip cookies

Burt's Eye View

Science says sleep deprivation can cause the brain to eat itself.

This is why I always keep a healthy stash of chocolate chip cookies in my desk. Give the brain a choice between mushy gray cells or chocolate brown chips and my suspicion is it will chomp the cookies every time.

Think about it. In some parts of the world, dishes like monkeys’ brains are considered delicacies. I suspect these would be the parts of the world we refer to as “undeveloped.” You can’t be considered an advanced civilization if you lack a decent Toll House recipe.

It sure seems like intelligence to me to choose chocolate chips over snack plates of cerebrums and cerebellums.

Or possibly I’ve just proved that I missed too many naps and my brain’s already half digested.

Anyway, according the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers at the Marche Polytechnic University in Italy who analyzed mice found that something called astrocytes cells in the frontal cortexes broke down more of the brains in the sleep-deprived mice than in the mice who went straight to bed when their mothers said so.

“We show for the first time that portions of the synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss,” lead researcher Michele Bellesi said in the New Scientist.

I once conducted a sleep study on a mouse myself, although accidentally. I’d kicked back in my easy chair and flipped an afghan over my legs. A mouse popped out of the folds of the blanket.

I don’t remember the exact sequence of events over the next few seconds, but I recall a lot of squealing, squeaking and dashing about. The mouse did, too. The little incident deprived both the mouse and me of sleep for the next several hours. We ate cookies to save what brain cells we had left.

Anyway, you could stuff several dozen mattresses with all the scientific research that claims we as a society aren’t getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation, according to WebMD and others, leads to such things as multiple health risks, depression, bad skin, weight gain, foggy judgment and accidents.

Personally, lack of sleep turns me into a babbling buffoon. I chatter like a chipmunk, and make nearly as much sense.

It is when we sleep that our brains recharge, jumbled thoughts organize themselves and we solve problems. Not just at night, either. Healthy Living reports that naps are essential to alertness, creativity, memory and productivity.

Our circadian rhythms hit their most tired peaks every 12 hours. So if you’re in your deepest sleep at 2 a.m., it is biologically natural for you to be at your daytime lowest at 2 p.m.

In other words — and I hope my boss is paying attention — I am a far more valuable employee napping than I am awake.

But the last time I pitched this idea, the boss said something must have eaten my brain. Well, that’s exactly what I was trying to warn her against.

I bet if my boss got more sleep herself, she’d be a lot less cranky about my afternoon naps designed to save the company.

Or maybe I should share my chocolate chip cookies. A couple pounds of Toll House prevention is worth several ounces of saved brains. Plus, the mice can rest easy.

— Rouse Cole from his slumber at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com or on the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook.