A new study has explained how sleep deprivation leads to temporary mental lapses that affect memory and visual perception.
According to research, not getting adequate sleep disrupts the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other, thereby leading to one blanking out or spacing out.
The research was conducted by keeping 12 UCLA epileptic patients awake all night as lack of sleep provokes seizures.
Electrodes were implanted in their brains in order to pinpoint the origin of their seizures.
It recorded nearly 1,500 single brain cells, across the group, when the patients were asked to perform a task.
As the patients grew sleepier and activities slowed down, their brain cells did, too.
“We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly,” said Itzhak Fried, senior author of the study. “This paves the way for cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us.”
The scientists zeroed in on the temporal lobe, which regulates visual perception and memory.
“We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity,” said lead author Dr. Yuval Nir of Tel-Aviv University. “Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly, fired more weakly and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual.”
The researchers discovered that lack of sleep interfered with the neurons’ ability to encode information and translate visual input into conscious thought.
It evokes the same occurrence when a sleep-deprived driver notices a pedestrian stepping in front of his car.
“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.”
In a second finding, the researchers discovered that slower brain waves accompanied sluggish cellular activity in the same regions of the patients’ brains.
“Slow sleep-like waves disrupted the patients’ brain activity and performance of tasks,” said Fried. “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,” said Fried.
“Inadequate sleep exerts a similar influence on our brain as drinking too much,” said Fried. “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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