Featured photo: Code Name: Mama via Flickr

If you’re a parent, you’re probably used to getting by on very little sleep (nothing a few cups of coffee can’t cure, right?). But a new study may make you rethink your bedtime habits: apparently, scientists have discovered that a severely sleep-deprived brain may actually start gobbling up its own cells.

Yep, your brain might actually eat itself up. Not completely, of course, but perhaps enough to make your thinking more than a little fuzzy over time.

The study was conducted by scientists at Marche Polytechnic University in Italy who looked at the brains of various groups of mice — those who were allowed to sleep as long as they wanted, those who were kept up an extra eight hours and those who were kept awake for five days straight (designed to simulate chronic sleep deprivation).

During a good night’s sleep, brain cells known as astrocytes destroy unnecessary synapses in the brain as a sort of cranial “housekeeping system.” This is normal and good, scientists say. But when looking at the sleep-deprived mice, scientists found that astrocytes went into overdrive and started breaking down “more of the brains connections and their debris” according to an article in New Scientist.

“We show for the first time that portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss,” Michele Bellesi of the Marche Polytechnic University said in the article.

Scientists also found that the sleep-deprived mice had more active microglial cells, a concerning find, Bellesi told New Scientist, since this sort of increased activity has been linked to Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders.

It is a finding that could back up previous studies that show sleep deprivation as a possible cause for Alzheimer’s.

Of course, more research needs to be done, but the next time you think you can stay up to watch just one more episode of Game of Thrones (especially when you know your little one is going to barge in on your beauty sleep at least once during the night), you might want to think again.

And get more sleep.

How many hours of sleep do you get per night? Tell us in the comments below.