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Sleep Deprivation May Disrupt Brain Cells And Change How We See The World

7 November 2017, 8:22 am EST By Catherine Isabedra Tech Times
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Turkey's president Erdogan struggles to stay awake during briefing in Kiev

Having mental lapses lately? It can be due to a significant lack of sleep that causes disrupted brain cell function, a new study confirms.

A study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles team of researchers shows that individuals with sleep deprivation are more likely to experience momentary mental lapses, which can eventually lead to poor memory recall and visual perception.

Sleep Deprivation And Brain Cell Activity

Senior author and neurosurgery professor at Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Tel Aviv University Itzhak Fried claims that depriving the body of the much-needed sleep causes neurons to lose their ability to communicate effectively. The resulting cognitive lapses in turn affect how one perceives and reacts to their surroundings.

For the study, the researchers analyzed 12 individuals included in the surgical waiting list for epilepsy. With electrodes placed within their brains, the patients were asked to classify different images as fast as they can. While the patients answer, the electrodes record the activity of as much as 1,500 brain cells. To identify memory recall and visual perception accurately, the researchers carefully looked at how temporal lobe neurons responded.

During the study, it was greatly noted that sleepier patients had slower response rates, parallel to the brain cell firing.

"We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity," stated lead author Yuval Nir of Tel Aviv University. "Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly and fired more weakly, and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual."

This means that the ability of the neurons to process information and convert visual perception into their consciousness is greatly impaired by sleep deprivation. There is a noted slowdown in response and reaction times because the brain cells are firing slowly, particularly within the temporal lobe. This disrupted brain activity affects how one can effectively perform their tasks.

Highlight On Severe Fatigue And Sleep Deprivation

With the findings, Fried is adamant on changing how the society looks at sleep and the lack of it. He claims that severe fatigue causes brain changes similar to the effects of alcohol consumption. He believes that there should be legal and medical standards in place to identify fatigued drivers on the road.

He added that, aside from drivers, medical residents serving long shifts in the hospital with only few hours of sleep are more likely to make errors with how they provide medical care to their patients. Lack of sleep is associated with a number of health problems such as Parkinson's disease and dementia that addressing it immediately is imperative.

To further cement the benefits of sleep, Fried and his team of researchers are planning to look at the mechanism that drives cellular changes that lead to mental lapses.

The study is published in Nature on Nov. 6.

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