Missing out on a good night's sleep can seriously affect your brain function.
Studies recently covered by Medical News Today have suggested that how much - and how well - we sleep may be key in visual learning, memory consolidation, and necessary unlearning.
Most alarming about the research, however, is that brainwaves seemed to slow down, meaning certain parts of the brain were attempting to sleep - not something you want to happen while driving.
The study, published (paywall) on November 7 in Nature Medicine, relied on 12 volunteers in California who were receiving treatment for uncontrolled epilepsy. The patients had electrodes implanted in their brains prior to surgery in order to pinpoint the origin of their seizures.
Scientists took 12 people who were sleep-deprived and found their tiredness interfered with their brain's neuron functionality.
Researchers asked each study participant to categorize a variety of images as quickly as possible. He said: "We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly". The results can have real-world consequences, says lead researcher Itzhak Fried of UCLA, who uses the example of a driver slow to pick up on a pedestrian.
"The acute effects of a lack of sleep can also cause cognitive and behavioral lapses that contribute to accident-induced injury or death", the researchers write.
"We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity", said lead author Yuval Nir of Tel Aviv University.
SLEEP deprivation can affect people in a similar way to alcohol, scientists warn. "It takes longer for his brain to register what he's perceiving", says Dr. Nir. The electrodes recorded the firing of a total of almost 1,500 brain cells (from all of the participants combined) as the patients responded, and the scientists paid particular attention to neurons in the temporal lobe, which regulates visual perception and memory. "This phenomenon suggests that select regions of the patients' brains were dozing, causing mental lapses, while the rest of the brain was awake and running as usual", said Fried.
The researchers insist that sleep deprivation should be taken much more seriously than it now is, given its real dangers. Dr. The effects are similar to "drinking too much". He believes that there should be legal and medical standards in place to identify worn out drivers on the road. This could raise concerns over exhausted commuters driving into work after failing to get enough sleep, should someone cross the road in front of them.