Exhausted brains are prone to mental lapses as whole areas 'doze off'

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

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

Fried explained, "You can imagine driving a vehicle and suddenly somebody jumps in front of the auto at night".

A new study has explained how sleep deprivation leads to temporary mental lapses that affect memory and visual perception. This leads to periods of mental lapses.

The findings were published this week online in Nature Medicine.

"We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly", said Itzhak Fried, senior author of the study.

'This paves the way for cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us'.

The team of researchers measured activities from certain nerves directly in 12 persons.

The patients were hospitalized for a week and implanted with electrodes to pinpoint the place in the brain where their seizures originated.

In the new study, an worldwide team of scientists studied 12 people preparing to undergo surgery at UCLA for epilepsy, which can be provoked because of lack of sleep. The scientists focused on neurons in the temporal lobe, which regulates visual perception and memory.

Four of the patients stayed up all night before looking at some more images. The UCLA team reported that as people grew more exhausted, neurons in the brain that regulate visual perception and memory slowed down too.

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Co-author Dr Yuval Nir, from Tel Aviv University in Israel, said: "The very act of seeing the pedestrian slows down in the driver's over-tired brain". 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.

In short, a lack of sleep interfered with the neurons' ability to encode information and translate visual input into conscious thought.

Researchers explain that the same thing could happen when a sleepy driver notices a pedestrian walking in front of his auto.

The driver's brain will take longer to register what they are seeing, resulting in a slower intended response of navigating to avoid hitting the pedestrian.

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.

What's more, scientists also discovered that some sections of the participants brain were still in a sleep-like state, even while the rest of the brain appeared to be awake. "Yet no legal or medical standards exist for identifying over-tired drivers the same way we target drunk drivers".

In future research, Fried and his colleagues plan to more deeply explore the benefits of sleep, and to unravel the mechanism responsible for the cellular glitches that precede mental lapses.

The worldwide 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.

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