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The Growing Benefits
of Sleep

A common cause of brain injuries can
come from head trauma such as concussions, which, over time, can lead to extensive
traumatic brain injuries. This is one of the major causes of death and
cognitive disabilities in the world. Many people who play sports such as
football, hockey, soccer, or engage in mixed martial arts may encounter this
type of brain trauma multiple times during their career. However, not only
those playing intense contact sports are at risk for the brain damage that lead
to the instant cell death at the site of impact and surrounded cell death days
after. Concussions are very common occurrences for people of all ages,
sometimes simply caused by a fall or running into something. Any sort of
traumatic brain injury, repeated or not, can lead to lifetime problems processing
information and some motions.

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The
research of Daniela Noain and Christian Baumann reported in Neuroscience News
article “Enhancing Sleep After Brain Injury Reduces Brain Damage and Cognitive
Decline in Rats” examines a potential treatment for reducing some of the
effects of traumatic brain injury (“Enhancing Sleep”,
2016). After brain
injury, there is a buildup of molecular waste, and recent research has
suggested that the bran is able to dispose of some of this waste during
slow-wave sleep. Noian and Baumann wanted to see if this could be applied as a
potential treatment for lessening the symptoms of traumatic brain injuries. To
test their hypothesis, they used twenty-five rats, which they dealt a blow to
the prefrontal cortex to, in an attempt to mimic the brain injury. As discussed
in class, the prefrontal cortex, located at the rostral part of the frontal
lobe, is involved in motor planning, though, executive processes, and working
memory (Gobel 2018). After the rats were injured, they were split into three
groups, one which deprived of sleep, the second was given sodium oxybate to
induce a state of slow-wave sleep, and the third and final group received a
placebo drug. The rats were monitored for the next five days, making sure they
were reaching a state of slow-wave sleep. After, the rats were given a memory
test, and their brains examined for damaged axons in areas associated with
learning and memory. Goble has discussed multiple areas that are implicated in these
processes which the researchers could have checked for damage besides simply the
frontal love. These areas include limbic system structures, such as the amygdala,
hippocampus and fornix (2018).

The
findings of the study were congruent with the hypothesis. The rats that experienced
enhanced slow-wave sleep did better on the memory test as well as had extremely
reduced levels of axonal injury, nearly 80% less than the placebo rats. The
full Neuroscience News article can be found at http://neurosciencenews.com/tbi-sleep-axons-neuroscience-3924/.
To the scientific community, this means that slow-wave sleep can be a new
avenue to study potential treatments for concussions, other traumatic brain
injuries, as well as any other disease that may cause molecular waste. Not only
does this data prove interesting within the scientific community, but the
implications of this study could be monumental for people who are experiencing
traumatic brain injury, especially early on in life. While it must be taken
into consideration that this study was done with an animal model, and much more
research is needed, the findings support the idea that rest and sleep is
critical after experiencing a brain injury, something that many professional
sports teams do not seem to enforce, by continuing to play members of their
teams shortly after potential injuries.

Despite
this, more research and some clarification are needed before some sort of
slow-wave-sleep-enhancing treatment program could be implemented in humans. The
article is unclear if the rats did the task every day for the five days, or if
the task was administered after the five days, which is an important
distinction that they should have added to the article. If it was every day,
did memory improve as time passed? Would memory keep improving if this was the
case and the animals were monitored longer? It also never fully defined what
“rats receiving treatments to enhance slow-wave sleep” meant (“Enhancing Sleep”, 2016).  This could assume that only the placebo group
was untreated, as short periods of sleep deprivation can improve slow-wave
sleep. They also did not describe how many rats were in each group. A graph of
the results of the three experimental groups would have been helpful to see
which method worked best to increase the cognitive function of the rats, and to
help determine which groups were considered experimental. While it would be unethical
to perform such a task on humans, patients that come in to hospitals or for treatment
for traumatic brain injuries could be used in the future to see if this research
will have any potential in humans, as, also, if it’s effects are across multiple
types of memory, or simply one. With the rats, there would not be the potential
for testing declarative memory function, but that could be something to be assessed
in a human who received the treatment with a temporal lobe injury (Gobel, 2018). 

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