According to a recent study, which is the first of its kind, sleep deprivation can disrupt the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other and can cause “temporary mental lapses” that significantly impact memory and visual perception. Dr. Itzhak Fried, professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Tel Aviv University, said, “We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly.” Fried, who was also the senior author of the study, added, “This paves the way for cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us.”
The international team, led by Fried, observed 12 UCLA epileptic patients. The participants had electrodes implanted in their brains, and the implants were used to pinpoint the origin of their seizures before surgery. A lack of sleep can provoke seizures, so the 12 patients stayed awake all night to speed the onset of an epileptic episode and cut short their hospital stay.
Fried et al. asked the patients to categorize different images as fast as they could at the same time their electrodes recorded the firing of nearly 1,500 single brain cells among the group in real time. The researchers observed the temporal lobe, which is responsible for regulating visual perception and memory.
As the patients felt drowsier, they had a harder time categorizing the images. When the participants slowed down, their brain cells did as well. (Related: 5 Plant-Based Foods to Help You Sleep.)
Dr. Yuval Nir of Tel-Aviv University, the lead author of the study, commented, “We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity.” He added, “Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly, fired more weakly and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual.”
When a person suffers from a lack of sleep, this interferes with the neurons’ capacity to encode information and interpret visual input as conscious thought. The same thing happens when an individual who is sleep deprived sees a pedestrian stepping in front of their car. Nir explains that despite seeing the pedestrian, the driver’s “over-tired brain” will take a while to process the data.
During the study’s second finding, the researchers found out that “sluggish cellular activity in the same regions of the patients’ brains” was accompanied by slower brain waves.
These “slow sleep-like waves” interfered with the patients’ brain activity and ability to accomplish tasks, shared Fried. Based on this occurrence, it can be inferred that “select regions of the patients’ brains were dozing,” which can cause mental lapses even though the rest of the brain was awake and performing like normal, added Fried.
The study’s findings opens the floor to discussion concerning society’s thoughts on sleep deprivation. Fried cautioned, “Inadequate sleep exerts a similar influence on our brain as drinking too much.” He continued, “Yet no legal or medical standards exist for identifying over-tired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers.” Along with his colleagues, Fried hopes to further the health benefits of a good night’s sleep. Future research could help determine the mechanism that causes the cellular glitches that lead to mental lapses, which can often be dangerous if left unchecked.
Earlier studies have proven a link between sleep deprivation to “a heightened risk of depression, obesity, diabetes, heart attacks and stroke,” along with medical errors.
How to get a good night’s sleep
Now that you’re aware of the dangers that sleep deprivation can cause, consider trying some of these tips to help you sleep better at night:
- Follow a regular sleep pattern – Whenever possible, go to be at the same time every night and try to wake up at the same time every morning.
- Don’t sleep too long, but make sure you’re not sleep deprived – The average adult needs at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Don’t sleep longer than eight and a half hours.
- Make your bedroom comfortable – You’ll have an easier time falling asleep if your bed is comfortable and if your room is quiet and dark.
- Stop watching the clock – Looking at the clock when you’re turning in for the night can make you anxious, and if you can’t help yourself, simply turn the clock around so you can still hear the alarm.
For more articles on how lack of sleep can affect your eyesight and memory, visit MindBodyScience.news.