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

08 November, 2017, 09:36 | Author: Inez Murphy
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New research suggests that sleep deprivation disrupts brain communication in a manner similar to alcohol, causing temporary lapses in memory and altered visual perception.

Senior author and neurosurgery professor at Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Tel Aviv University Itzhak Fried claims that depriving the body of the much-needed sleep causes neurons to lose their ability to communicate effectively.

"This paves the way for cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us".

For the study, Fried, along with an worldwide team of scientists, studied 12 people preparing to undergo surgery for epilepsy at UCLA.

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

Because epileptic patients are often kept awake a lot to provoke a seizure, the scientists had an excellent way to study the effects of sleep deprivation.

The study participants were then asked to categorize images as fast as they can.

Because the electrodes were inside these people's skulls, researchers could see each neuronal cell's activity.

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

He said: "We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly". Most studies looking at individual neurons are on other animals, and the majority of sleep studies on humans rely on external measures of brain activity.

Researchers explain that the same thing could happen when a sleepy driver notices a pedestrian walking in front of his vehicle. The very act of seeing the pedestrian slows down in the driver's overtired brain. It takes longer for his brain to register what he's perceiving'.

It was also found that brain cells that took longer to respond were associated with slower brain waves - such as those normally registered during sleep phases - and that this slow-motion activity was located in the same brain regions.

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. "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.

"Severe fatigue exerts a similar influence on the brain to drinking too much", Fried said. He believes that there should be legal and medical standards in place to identify tired drivers on the road.

She also argues that regulations should be put in place in order to stop over-tired drivers from getting behind the wheel.

To further cement the benefits of sleep, Fried and his team of researchers are planning to look at the mechanism that drives cellular changes that lead to mental lapses.

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