Sleep deprivation has as much effect on brain activity as alcohol

Ebony Scott
November 9, 2017

Researchers have found that lack of sleep disrupts communication between brain cells, leading to temporary mental lapses affecting visual perception and memory.

The researchers worked with 12 people with epilepsy, who were also registered as patients with UCLA.

"We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity", says one of the team, Yuval Nir from Tel Aviv University in Israel.

Dr Fried said: "We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly". Fried explained that for example if a person is driving a auto and another person jumps in front of it, a sleep deprived person would have a different response than one who has had adequate sleep.

The patients involved were firstly evaluated before the study to understand their body and mind for the goal of the study.

The patients were hospitalized for a week and implanted with electrodes to pinpoint the place in the brain where their seizures originated. That allows Fried and a team of scientists to monitor hundreds of individual brain cells, often for days.

As part of the procedure, patients are asked to stay awake all night to speed the onset of an epileptic episode and shorten their hospital stay.

Fried led an worldwide team in studying 12 UCLA epileptic patients who had electrodes implanted in their brains in order to pinpoint the origin of their seizures prior to surgery. Now they also found what happens to the brain if it is sleep deprived. Participants tried to to sort a range of images as quickly as possible. As they were faced with an image, regions in their brains lit up as they processed the image.

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The driver's brain will take longer to register what they are seeing, resulting in a slower intended response of navigating to avoid hitting the pedestrian.

"But it has been hard to determine precisely how sleep deprivation influences neural activity within the human brain owing to the invasive techniques required to record neural activity". In total, the activity of nearly 1,500 brain cells was recorded across the 12 participants.

"Unlike the usual rapid reaction", he says, "the neurons responded slowly, fired more weakly, and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual". Fried said, "These are the very neurons [that] are responsible for the way you process the world in front of you".

The UCLA study details how brain cells lose the ability to communicate with each other following sleep deprivation.

Lately, many studies have focused on how sleep affects the ways in which our bodies function, and especially on how it impacts the brain.

Fried warned that driving especially is unsafe when a person is sleep deprived and that is evident from this study.

The nerve cells of those who were sleep-deprived were "slower and more sluggish", he said. He cited his own example as a neurosurgeon.

Other reports by GizPress

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