Not Getting Enough Sleep Can Actually Damage Your Brain, Science Says

We all know we need a good night's sleep, but we've never really known why -- until now.

Those who don't get enough shut-eye are literally robbing their brains of vital time needed to repair themselves, according to a new study out of Israel.

While we're awake, broken DNA builds up in our brain cells, and it can reach unsafe levels. So, every night when we rest our eyelids, essential maintenance work is carried out to reverse the damage.

IMAGE: Getty

All creatures in the animal kingdom with a nervous system -- from bugs to birds -- sleep at regular intervals.

While it's been proven to have enormous benefits for physical and mental health, researchers have been unable to pinpoint why it's so essential.

READ MORE: Too Much Sleep Is So Bad For Your Health It Could Kill You

READ MORE: Why You Can’t Catch Up On Sleep During The Weekend

But a new study saw experts analyse the zebrafish, finding some surprising results.

Scientists used the zebrafish because their brains have similarities to those of humans. Using a high-resolution microscope, the movement of DNA and nuclear proteins within the cells were observed and recorded while the fish were sleeping and awake.

Neuron cells IMAGE: Getty

Researchers found double-strand breaks -- when both parts of the DNA's double helix are severed -- appeared regularly as part of natural wear and tear.

The chromosomes responsible for reversing the damage don't work hard during wakeful hours, but go into overdrive when the body rested.

“It’s like potholes in the road,” Professor Lior Appelbaum of Bar-Ilan University said.

“Roads accumulate wear and tear, especially during daytime rush hours, and it is most convenient and efficient to fix them at night when there is light traffic.”

IMAGE: Getty

Researchers concluded humans and animals have to enter "offline mode" so that there is time for chromosomes to clean everything up, clear out the damage and ensure the brain is fit and ready for the following day.

No or little sleep means the damage accumulates, and isn't fixed quickly enough.

So, yes, we spend a third of our life sleeping, but it's worth it.