Spacing Out After Not Sleeping Enough? New Study Explains Why

CBS Local — Ever wonder what’s going on in your brain after a night without much sleep? A new study is explaining how much of an effect losing sleep has on human brain cells.

The UCLA study details how brain cells lose the ability to communicate with each other following sleep deprivation. According to their findings, the damage to the brain cells will likely cause temporary mental lapses and even affect a person’s vision.

The researchers pin this disconnect in the brain as the main reason people forget items at home, space out at work, or have trouble recognizing common objects after a night of no sleep.

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“We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly,” Dr. Itzhak Fried, a professor of neurosurgery, said in UCLA’s news release. “This leads to cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us.”

The researchers studied 12 people who were preparing to undergo surgery to treat epilepsy. Scientists looked at how the patients’ brains functioned as they grew more tired and reached the danger point for an epileptic seizure. The UCLA team reported that as people grew more tired, neurons in the brain that regulate visual perception and memory slowed down too.

“Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly and fired more weakly,” Yuval Nir of Tel Aviv University said.

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The study noted that the major and most dangerous effects on brain cells can be seen in sleep-deprived drivers.

“The very act of seeing the pedestrian slows down in the driver’s overtired brain. It takes longer for his brain to register what he’s perceiving,” Dr. Fried explained.

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