Forgetting some important things — such as your home or car keys, or the anniversary of your partner — might be due to the lack of sleep you’re experiencing during your life, American scientists say.
Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, performed a study to understand how the deprivation of sleep can affect the cells of the human brain — known as neurons. They proved that when a person has lost hours of sleep, these neurons don’t correctly communicate visual information between them. Thus, not letting it be able to remember simple things.
The researcher who led the study, a neurosurgical specialist called Itzhak Fried, said that depriving the body of sleep also “robs neurons of the ability to function properly.” Thus, affecting the way we perceive the external world while provoking “cognitive lapses.”
“This paves the way for cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us. The very act of seeing the pedestrian slows down in the driver’s over-tired brain. It takes longer for his brain to register what he’s perceiving,” The UCLA lead researcher said. “Inadequate sleep exerts a similar influence on our brain as drinking too much. Yet no legal or medical standards exist for identifying over-tired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers.”
Fried and the UCLA team gathered a total of 12 patients who were set to go into surgery. The scientists wanted to see which parts of their brains activate when they suffer from a seizure, so they connected electrodes to their heads and recorded information for the next hours.
An epileptic person must normally sleep to avoid seizures. But because that was precisely the researchers’ object of study, the experts told the patients not to sleep for an entire night, so they were able to fast up the epileptic episodes — thus, also shortening their stay in the hospital.
The electrodes also let scientists record the connections between each neuron. The results showed that cells fired visual information slower at the end of the study than at the beginning of it because the patients grew weary.
If the neurons can’t process visual information, the brain can’t create conscious thoughts.
The connection between neurons slowed down after the patients got tired
The researchers asked the patients to divide an amount of different pictures into separated groups. At the same time, they recorded around 1,500 single brain cells firing information in real time. They focused their analysis on the region of the brain where visual perception and memory are regulated: the temporal lobe.
While the time passed out and the subjects got tired, the scientists felt unsurprised by seeing that their patients started answering slower than when they were more awake. However, they amazed after realizing that the patients’ brain cells were also working slower as they continue with the study.
“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.”
Although the UCLA team did not recommend any amount of hours to sleep, the National Institutes of Health and other organizations consider that an average adult should sleep between seven and nine hours per night.
There’s more research to be made to understand the benefits of sleep further. Previous research has already linked the deprivation of sleep to many diseases — such as depression, obesity, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart attacks and stroke.