Wake-up call: This is your brain on too few zzzz’s.
A new study from UCLA said to be the first of its kind reveals that “sleep deprivation disrupts brain cells” and their ability to communicate. When your brain-cell wires get crossed, you can feel spaced out. Or forget your keys when you leave the house.
“We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly,” said study author and neurosurgical specialist Itzhak Fried. “This leads to cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us.”
Fried and his research team studied 12 people set for surgery at UCLA for epilepsy. Before surgery, patients had electrodes implanted in their brains to pinpoint the origin of their seizures. Because lack of sleep can provoke seizures, patients stay awake all night to speed the onset of an epileptic episode and shorten their hospital stay.
Electrodes also recorded brain-cell firing as scientists asked patients questions about a variety of images. As subjects grew weary, brain cells fired less. Too little shuteye interfered with the neurons’ ability to encode information and translate visual input into conscious thought.
Sleep deprivation leads to a decrease in brain power, according to a new study.
(Walter Zerla/Getty Images/Blend Images)
“Sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity,” said fellow researcher 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.”
While the UCLA researchers didn’t recommend a suitable amount of sleep, the National Institutes of Health and other organizations recommend between seven and nine hours of sleep a night for a healthy adult. Further study is needed to more deeply explore the benefits of sleep — and a lack of it, which has been linked to depression, obesity, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart attacks and stroke. But the UCLA research team says the study can have a far-reaching impact.
“Severe fatigue exerts a similar influence on the brain to drinking too much,” Fried said. “Yet no legal or medical standards exist for identifying overtired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers.”