Wednesday, 22 November, 2017

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

Why your brain stops working when you get tired: Lack of sleep makes cells lose the ability to talk to each other Spacing out after staying up late? Here's why
Tracy Craig | 08 November, 2017, 01:30

A new study led by UCLA's Dr. Itzhak Fried is the first to reveal how sleep deprivation disrupts brain cells' ability to communicate with each other.

Temporary mental lapses are now believed to occur when these cells struggle to translate visual information into conscious thought.

Researchers asked each study participant to categorize a variety of images as quickly as possible.

How was the study carried out? Before surgery, patients had electrodes implanted in their brains to pinpoint the origin of their seizures.

"When we're sleep-deprived, a local intrusion of sleep-like waves disrupts normal brain activity while we're performing tasks", he explained. This area of the brain regulates visual perception and memory.

Chiara Cirelli, a psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-author of the paper, published work earlier this year suggesting that while we sleep, our brains tidy up and organize the different connections between their cells. 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.

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Scientists have discovered that sleep deprivation causes your brain cells to switch off while awake - and it could happen to you while driving.

You may curse your memory when you lose your house keys for the umpteenth time or fail to find your auto after just half an hour in the supermarket. He said: "We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly". The study noted that the major and most unsafe effects on brain cells can be seen in sleep-deprived drivers. "The very act of seeing the pedestrian slows down in the driver's overtired brain", he explains in a UCLA release. It takes longer for his brain to register what he's perceiving'.

The team further reports that this sluggish neuronal activity was also accompanied by slower brain wave patterns in the same region of the brain. "This phenomenon suggests that select regions of the patients' brains were dozing, causing mental lapses, while the rest of the brain was awake and running as usual".

What have older studies found?

Sleep deprivation is associated with long term impact in humans leading to hypertension, diabetes, heart attacks, obesity, depression etc.

You haven't been imagining it: When you're exhausted and haven't had enough sleep, individual neurons in the brain actually slow down, according to a joint Israeli-American research team. They found that sleep deprivation leads to slower and weaker bursts of electrical activity in the nerves. And while police have standard tests to measure for booze, "no legal or medical standards exist for identifying overtired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers", notes Fried, whose study is in Nature Medicine.

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