Lack of sleep slows down brain function, study reports

A new study sheds light on why a lack of sleep impairs brain function.
By Ed Mason | Nov 10, 2017
A lack of sleep can cause brain cells to slow down and limit their communication, a new study published in Nature Medicine reports.

This finding comes from researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles who set out to determine why a lack of sleep impairs mental functions.

In the study, the team analyzed brain neurons in 12 people, a process that revealed sleep deprivation both slows down and weakens the bursts of electrical activity that brain cells use to communicate.

"You can imagine driving a car and suddenly somebody jumps in front of the car at night," explained study co-author Itzhak Fried, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles, according to NPR. "If you are sleep-deprived, your cells are going to react in a different way than in your normal state."

The team managed to collect their data by evaluating patients being prepped for epilepsy-correction surgery. This allowed researchers to monitor hundreds of individual brain cells and look at how those cells shifted as patients lost sleep.

Researchers found that nearly all of the subjects, when asked to categorize images of faces, places, and animals, showed certain patterns of electrical activity in the areas of the brain involved with perception. In addition, every patient in the study had neurons that responded slower while they were sleep deprived. Their responses also diminished over long periods of time.

Such changes impede the cell's ability to communicate, which then leads to mental lapses in both perception and memory. Additional research also revealed that sleep deprivation affects some areas of the brain more than others. Certain regions acted as if they were asleep, while others functioned normally.

 

This new study adds to the research that shows the danger of doing things like driving while drowsy. The team hopes to bring such issues to light and build upon their findings in the future.

"We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly," added Fried, according toThe Australian."This paves the way for cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us.Inadequate sleep exerts a similar influence on our brain as drinking too much. Yet no legal or medical standards exist for identifying over-tired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers."

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