Study Blames Mental Lapses on Sleep-deprived Brain Cells

Study Blames Mental Lapses on Sleep-deprived Brain Cells

Study Blames Mental Lapses on Sleep-deprived Brain Cells

At this stage, we're all well aware of the negative effects a poor night's sleep can have on our mind and body.

Science, as ever, comes to save my honor - this time, with a study looking into the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain.

"We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly", the study's senior author, Dr. Itzhak Fried, a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Tel Aviv University, said in a statement. The resulting cognitive lapses in turn affect how one perceives and reacts to their surroundings.

The worldwide team of scientists studied 12 people who were preparing to undergo surgery at UCLA for epilepsy.

Dr Fried led an worldwide team studying 12 people with epilepsy, who had electrodes implanted in their brains in order to pinpoint the origin of their seizures.

For the study, researchers examined 12 exhausted epileptic patients who had electrodes implanted into their brains to pinpoint the origin of their seizures.

Each volunteer was asked to categorise a series of images as quickly as possible, while the researchers measured the firing of the neurons inside the brain. Now the researchers could actually monitor several hundreds of nerves in the brain cells for days. Given its nature, the team focused on the temporal lobe.

The researchers also noted that as the patients got sleepier, they also had more difficulty completing the task at hand.

Sleep deprivation interfered with the neurons' ability to encode information and translate images into conscious thought. As the patients slowed down, their brain cells did, too. "Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly and fired more weakly, and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual". Dr Nir suggested a situation where a pedestrian steps out in front of a driver: "The very act of seeing the pedestrian slows down in the driver's overtired brain".

Dr Fried compared driving while exhausted to drink-driving, saying: "Inadequate sleep exerts a similar influence on our brain to drinking too much". It takes longer for his brain to register what he's perceiving'.

In a second finding, the researchers discovered that slower brain waves accompanied sluggish cellular activity in the same regions of the patients' brains.

The scientists recorded the neuron activity in the medial temporal lobe of the brain while 12 people completed a facial recognition test, both before and after a full night without sleep. Fried says this suggests that certain regions of the brain were "dozing, causing mental lapses" while the rest was trying to stay awake and run as usual. "Severe fatigue exerts a similar influence on the brain to drinking too much", he said in a statement. He believes that there should be legal and medical standards in place to identify worn out drivers on the road. Fried even goes as far as to compare lack of sleep with overdrinking, and to suggest that more adequate actions should be taken against exhausted driving.

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