Published: Wed, November 08, 2017
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

New study highlights impact of poor sleep on mental performance

New study highlights impact of poor sleep on mental performance

"A new study has shed light on how sleep deprivation can disrupt brain cells' ability to communicate with each other, thus impairing mental performance".

That weakening in the brain's signalling network can lead to lapses in memory and problems concentrating, and in some ways is comparable to being drunk, say the researchers.

The researcher could monitor over 1500 nerves in the brain cells.

When people don't get enough sleep, certain brain cells literally slow down.

"We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly", says lead researcher Itzhak Fried, from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

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

The finding comes from an unusual study of patients being evaluated for surgery to correct severe epilepsy. Doctors can stop seizures by locating where in the brain they start, and then removing that part. The electrodes recorded their brain cell activity. Some epilepsy patients develop seizures on sleep deprivation. Since lack of sleep can provoke seizures, the patients stay awake all night to speed up their onset and shorten the hospital stay.

In the study, all the patients agreed to categorize images of faces, places and animals. As they were faced with an image, regions in their brains lit up as they processed the image. The resulting cognitive lapses in turn affect how one perceives and reacts to their surroundings.

Kept awake all night, the study participants were asked to categorise a variety of images as fast as possible while the electrodes recorded the firing of almost 1,500 single brain cells in real time. Nir added that brain cells did not only respond more slowly but they also fired more weakly and had transmissions that dragged on for a longer time than usual. Fried said, "The responses are diminished, and they are smeared over longer periods of time".

Sleep deprivation disrupted the ability of cells in the brain to encode information and translate visual information into conscious thoughts.

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The team also found evidence that sleep deprivation affects some areas of the brain more than others.

The global team behind the study wants to see the problem of sleep deprivation taken more seriously, both in the harm it can do to our own bodies and the risks that we might be taking when we get behind the wheel or do our daily jobs.

Drowsy driving in the responsible for more than 70,000 crashes a year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on estimates and statistics gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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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