Young man with laptop at home rubbing his eyes

Ever feel sluggish after a rubbish night’s sleep? This could be the tip of the iceberg for our brain function, reveals a new study from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Tel Aviv University, Israel. Researchers found that a lack of good sleep has severe consequences on our brain function and stops brain cells communicating properly, causing possible lapses in memory and vision.

The team studied 12 participants all with epilepsy. Participants were asked to complete a task, after a period of sleeplessness, whereby the researchers studied the electrical activity in the temporal lobe of the brain. The research found that the sleepier the participant, the more likely they were to find the task challenging and the slower they completed it.

According to Medical News Today, senior study author Dr Itzhak Fried said:

“We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly. This paves the way for cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us.”

He added:

“Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly, fired more weakly, and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual.”

Remarkably, the team said that while select regions of participants brains were up and running, some parts were “dozing, causing memory lapses” – essentially acting like they were asleep.

But what does this actually mean? On top of adding to the implications of driving after poor sleep, it seems sleep deprivation needs to be taken more seriously. With Dr Fried even compares sleep deprivation to overdrinking:

“Inadequate sleep exerts a similar influence on our brain as drinking too much… Yet no legal or medical standards exist for identifying overtired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers.”

While the study size was small and only looked at people with epilepsy, it’s definitely food for thought for when you’re tempted to get in your car after a sleepless night.


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