Skimp on Sleep? Your Brain May Nap While You're 'Awake'

Brain cells fire more slowly and stop encoding memories efficiently UCLA found
Credit
UCLA

Researchers also noticed sleep-like waves disrupting parts of the brain, nearly as if certain areas were dozing off and causing mental lapses of concentration, while other sections of the brain carried on running as normal. Fried explained that this is a reflection of how the brain reacts to different things and situations around us.

The global team of scientists studied 12 people who were preparing to undergo surgery at UCLA for epilepsy. These participants-who were otherwise healthy adults-had eight to 12 electrodes implanted just below their skulls on the surface of their brains, created to monitor the origin of their seizures.

And because patients with epilepsy are frequently kept awake in order to provoke a seizure, the scientists had an ideal way to study the effects of sleep deprivation.

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.

Sleep and Brain activity are inter-related to each other. Given its nature, the team focused on the temporal lobe.

Particular attention was paid to the neurons in the temporal lobe, where visual perception and visual memory are managed.

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

As the patient's progress slowed down, so too did their neurons under the hood, the team reports.

Sleep deprivation interfered with the neurons' ability to encode information and translate images into conscious thought.

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According to a new study, a lack of sleep can actually produce similar effects on the brain as alcohol consumption.

The neurons unlike regularly responded very slowly and appeared to be very weak.

Think of a sleep-deprived driver noticing a pedestrian stepping in front of their vehicle.

"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", says Dr. Nir.

In a second finding, the researchers discovered that slower brain waves accompanied sluggish cellular activity in the same regions of the patients' brains. As they did so, their brains fired a total of almost 1,500 cells.

The phenomenon suggests that select regions of the patients' brains were dozing, causing mental lapses, while the rest of the brain was awake and running normally.

"It exerts a similar influence on our brain as drinking too much". But, as Fried said in a university release, "no legal or medical standards exist for identifying overtired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers".

The worldwide team behind the study wants to see the problem of sleep deprivation taken more seriously, both in the harm it can do to our own bodies and the risks that we might be taking when we get behind the wheel or do our daily jobs.

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