Scientists claim parts of the brain can ‘switch off’ if you are overtired
According to a new study, driving whilst deprived of sleep is just as bad as jumping behind the wheel and driving whilst over the legal alcohol limit.
Scientists claim parts of the brain can switch themselves off if you are overtired, even if you are still awake.
The study found that reaction times were also affected, meaning that driving whilst deprived of sleep might be just as dangerous as getting behind the wheel whilst under the influence of alcohol.
When you deprive yourself of sleep, brain cells can lose their ability to communicate and when they struggle to translate visual information across to conscious thought, this is when temporary mental lapses occur.
This means that if a set of keys are placed in front of someone, they could walk past them and not go to pick them up.
The study used 12 people to reach their findings, keeping them awake all night and their brain cells, which are called neurons, were discovered to fire more weakly and take longer to respond.
“We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly,” said neurology professor from the University of California, Los Angeles, Dr Itzhak Fried who was involved in the study.
An international team which was led by Dr Fried, studied 12 people with epilepsy. The individuals had electrodes implanted in their brains to try and identify the source of their seizures.
They were kept awake all night and then asked to categorise a number of different images as quickly as possible whilst the electrodes recorded the firing of almost 1,500 single brain cells in real time.
Not alarmingly, as the individuals taking part got more tired they began to struggle more with the task but more interesting was the fact that as the participants slowed down, so too did their brain cells.
The temporal lobe was the area focused on more by the scientists. This part of the brain regulates visual perception and memory.
“We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity. Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly, fired more weakly and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual,” said lead author Dr Yuval Nir from Tel Aviv University in Israel.
Not getting enough sleep messed with the neuron’s ability to cipher information and translate visual input into conscious thought.
These results do raise concerns regarding commuters driving to work in an overtired state because they haven’t had enough sleep, in the event that someone crosses the road in front of them.
During a second verdict, researchers found slower brain waves in the same regions of people’s brains to the failing brain cells, which suggests that specific areas of the participants’ brains were snoozing causing mental lapses, whilst the rest of the brain was awake and functioning as normal.
“Inadequate sleep exerts a similar influence on our brain to drinking too much. Yet no legal or medical standards exist for identifying overtired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers,” said Dr Fried.
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