Sleepless nights lead to sluggish brain activity

Poor sleep can affect performance the day after

Scientists have now discovered that the actual problem with sleep deprivation is that your brain cells switch off while you are still awake, leading to anything from forgetting your keys to auto crashes. The resulting cognitive lapses in turn affect how one perceives and reacts to their surroundings.

Brain cells, called neurons, were found to fire more weakly and take longer to respond in a study of 12 people kept awake all night.

"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".

Chiara Cirelli, a psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-author of the paper, published work earlier this year suggesting that while we sleep, our brains tidy up and organize the different connections between their cells.

The investigation involved 12 people whose neurons in the brain was observed and thereby it was concluded that sleep deprivation can create electrical blasts and disrupt the electrical movement in the brain which actually leads to mental lapses.

"Slow sleep-like waves disrupted the patients' brain activity and performance of tasks", said Prof Fried. This area of the brain regulates visual perception and memory.

The researchers discovered that lack of sleep interfered with the neurons' ability to encode information and translate visual input into conscious thought.

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The same phenomenon can occur when a sleep-deprived driver notices a pedestrian stepping in front of his vehicle.

It seems that both states of being cause neurons to respond more slowly, meaning brain signals are slower and weaker.

The study's findings raise questions about how society views sleep deprivation. It takes longer for his brain to register what he's perceiving'.

Dr Fried compared driving while exhausted to drink-driving, saying: "Inadequate sleep exerts a similar influence on our brain to drinking too much". This could raise concerns over exhausted commuters driving into work after failing to get enough sleep, should someone cross the road in front of them.

The team further reports that this sluggish neuronal activity was also accompanied by slower brain wave patterns in the same region of the brain.

"It exerts a similar influence on our brain as drinking too much". And while police have standard tests to measure for booze, "no legal or medical standards exist for identifying overtired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers", notes Fried, whose study is in Nature Medicine. 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".

The research received support from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute of Mental Health and other organizations.

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