"It's clear that sleep plays an important role in memory - we know that taking naps helps us retain important memories. But how sleep deprivation impairs hippocampal function and memory is less obvious," said Robbert Havekes, assistant professor at the Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences.

It has been proposed earlier that changes in the connectivity between synapses - structures that allow neurons to pass signals to each other - can affect memory.

To study this further, the researchers conducted the test on mouse brain and examined the impact of brief periods of sleep loss on the structure of dendrites, the branching extensions of nerve cells along which impulses are received from other synaptic cells.

Their analyses indicated that sleep deprivation significantly reduces the length and spine density of the dendrites belonging to the neurons in the CA1 region of the hippocampus. They repeated the sleep-loss experiment, but left the mice to sleep undisturbed for three hours afterwards.

The effects of the five-hour sleep deprivation in the mice were reversed so that their dendritic structures were similar to those observed in the mice that had slept.

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