According to a recent study, a lack of sleep can result in temporary mental lapses that can impair memory and falsify visual perceptions. The study shows how sleep deprivation can significantly disrupt brain cell activity and ability to interact and communicate.
Leading the international team of neurologists was Itzhak Fried, senior author of the study and a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Tel Aviv University.
Fried stated that his team discovered that “starving the body of sleep also robs neurons the ability to function properly.”
The researchers found that the weakening of the brain’s signaling network, which can lead to memory lapses and problems concentrating, can be comparable to being drunk.
“Severe fatigue exerts a similar influence on the brain to drinking too much,” said Fried. “Yet no legal or medical standards exist for identifying overtired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers.”
The study looked at 12 patients who were preparing to have surgery for epilepsy. Because of the surgery preparations, their brains had already been fitted with electrodes in order to attempt to detect the locations of seizures.
The volunteers were asked to categorize a series of images as fast as possible while the researchers looked at the neurons firing inside the brain. About 1,500 brain cells in total were recorded in the patients.
The data found that as the patients got more tired, the neuron firing activity reduced in both speed and strength.
Without at least seven or eight hours of sleep each night, Americans have a hard time getting through the day and leave themselves more vulnerable to catching illnesses. Additional effects of sleep deficiency include heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure, and depression.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis.
Additional data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources shows that insomnia and other sleep troubles are more common in women than in men. Contributing factors to sleeplessness in women are hormones, periods, pregnancy, and work-related stress. Additional factors like anxiety and depression, which are more common in women, are also suspected contributors.
While the finite relationship between health consequences and sleep deprivation is not yet fully understood, it’s obvious that sleep has a direct impact on learning, memory, and analytic reasoning. With 3,007,300 occupational injuries and illnesses reported by workers in 2013, this research shows that sleep deprivation may be a contributing factor.
According to the National Institute of Health, almost 40% of adults have said they’ve fallen asleep without meaning to at least once a month. While a failure to know or follow the law was cited as the main reason for legal malpractice claims in 2010, sleep deprivation is a probable contributing factor to medical malpractice, as well as car crashes, aviation accidents, and industrial mishaps.
Fried’s research team hopes to see the problem of sleep deprivation being taken more seriously, both in terms of causing harm to our bodies as well as the possible risks we may be taking while driving or doing our daily jobs without sufficient sleep.