How Lack of Sleep Can Make Your Brain Cells Sluggish?

08 November, 2017, 09:37 | Author: Cassandra Gardner
  • Brain cells fire more slowly and stop encoding memories efficiently UCLA found

Senior author Dr Itzhak Fried, professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California - Los Angeles and Tel Aviv University, said: "Inadequate sleep exerts a similar influence on our brain as drinking too much". Fried explained that this is a reflection of how the brain reacts to different things and situations around us.

How was the study carried out?

Fried and his colleagues studied 12 patients preparing to have surgery for epilepsy, which meant their brains had already been fitted with electrodes to try and detect the locations of seizures before their operations.

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. Unsurprisingly, as tiredness levels increased, the participants struggled more with the task. They found that sleep deprivation leads to slower and weaker bursts of electrical activity in the nerves.

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Additionally, the study showed that slower brain waves accompanied by sluggish cellular activity in the temporal lobe - the part of the brain that regulates visual perception and memory - as well as other parts of the brain.

"We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity", said Yuval Nir from Tel-Aviv University. "Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly and fired more weakly, and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual". It can be due to a significant lack of sleep that causes disrupted brain cell function, a new study confirms.

Ginny Smith, presenter of an event called Mastering Memory at the Cheltenham Science Festival, said we need to focus less on recalling memories than storing them to begin with.

Sleep deprivation interfered with the neurons' ability to process information, encode it, and then translate the visual stimulus into conscious thought. Fried even goes as far as to compare lack of sleep with overdrinking, and to suggest that more adequate actions should be taken against exhausted driving. "It takes longer for his brain to register what he's perceiving", says Dr. Nir. "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".

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What have older studies found?

The report authors suggested that these results suggest society should change its perceptions of the risks of sleep deprivation. Authored by researchers from the USA and Israel, the paper reports that poor sleep will disrupt neurons' ability to communicate with each other, creating temporary mental lapses that negatively impact memory capacity and visual perception.

Most alarming about the research, however, is that brainwaves seemed to slow down, meaning certain parts of the brain were attempting to sleep - not something you want to happen while driving.

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