To the brain, sleep deprivation is 'like drinking too much'

Model Released

Model Released

I certainly did, and it's now a running gag among my friends that I won't drive unless I've had my "beauty sleep".

Sleep deprivation disrupts brain cells that can lead to temporary mental lapses that affect memory and visual perception, including causing vehicle accidents, according to a study led by UCLA's Dr. Itzhak Fried.

'This paves the way for cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us'.

The researchers worked with 12 people with epilepsy, who were also registered as patients with UCLA. As part of the procedure, doctors placed wires connected to the brain to find out where a patient's seizures started.

In the new study, an global team of scientists studied 12 people preparing to undergo surgery at UCLA for epilepsy, which can be provoked because of lack of sleep.

They were then tasked with categorising a selection of images as fast as possible while implants recorded their brain activity.

In over 30 image experiments, the research team recorded the electrical activity of almost 1,500 neurons, 150 of which clearly responded to the images.

While they performed this task, the researchers focused on the electrical activity in the temporal lobe of the brain, which has been associated with memory and visual recognition.

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Unsurprisingly, as people got more exhausted, they struggled more with the task.

In short, a lack of sleep interfered with the neurons' ability to encode information and translate visual input into conscious thought. Furthermore, as the patients grew sleepier and slowed down, their brain cells did, too. Nir added that brain cells did not only respond more slowly but they also fired more weakly and had transmissions that dragged on for a longer time than usual. Fried explained that for example if a person is driving a vehicle and another person jumps in front of it, a sleep deprived person would have a different response than one who has had adequate sleep.

"The very act of seeing the pedestrian slows down in the driver's over-tired brain", he explained. "It takes longer for his brain to register what he's perceiving", Dr.

In a second finding, the researchers discovered slower brain waves in the same regions of people's brains to the failing brain cells.

"When we're sleep-deprived, a local intrusion of sleep-like waves disrupts normal brain activity while we're performing tasks", said Yuval Nir of TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience who led the study.

"Severe fatigue exerts a similar influence on the brain to drinking too much", says Fried.

It is this slowdown of individual neurons, when we are sleep-deprived, that leads to delayed behavioral responses to events taking place around us, the new study, published in Nature Medicine, reveals. Future studies will investigate the mechanism responsible for the cellular glitches that precede mental lapses.

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