It happens to the best of us. We toss and turn all night, and then we have to drag ourselves to work and try to focus and be productive. A recent study out of UCLA has found that when you are sleep deprived, it makes it tougher for your brain cells to communicate with each other, which can lead to temporary mental lapses that affect how you remember, interact with and perceive your environment.
The researchers monitored 12 epilepsy patients who were slated to undergo surgery to treat the condition. To best address the problem during surgery, the participants had electrodes implanted in their brains to identify where and how their symptoms and seizures began. Lack of sleep can often lead to seizures, so in order to speed up the process, the patients had to stay away all night.
The scientists had the patients categorize a series of images as fast as they could and found that as they got progressively more tired, their brain cells slowed down, too.
“We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity,” co-author Dr. Yuval Nir explained in a summary of the findings. “Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly and fired more weakly, and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual.”
Being tired made it harder for the patients’ neurons to translate the images they were seeing into conscious thought. Basically, when you’re tired, the ability to register what you’re seeing slow down, as does your reaction time. Even though parts of your brain are operating as usual, there are some areas, particularly the temporal lobe that handles how you perceive things, that slow to a potentially dangerous degree.
“Severe fatigue exerts a similar influence on the brain to drinking too much,” co-author Dr. Itzhak Fried noted. “Yet no legal or medical standards exist for identifying overtired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers.”
All the more reason to get enough sleep — your judgement about issues big and small will be shaky at best without it.
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