Sleep deprivation can literally slow down some of the neurons in our brains, claims the team behind a new study that set out to study the effects of a lack of slumber on the human body. The researchers reached these results after studying the brains of twelve participants.
The Sluggish Response of the Sleep-Deprived Brain Cells
Research was conducted on a rather unusual basis, as the patients involved were being evaluated before surgeries meant to correct severe epilepsy. A significant number of studies targeting patients with this condition keep the participants awake to trigger a seizure.
So the current study did almost the same thing, but with a different purpose. The researchers set out to take a closer look at the brains of sleep-deprived people and were thus able to do so. By placing wires in their brains, specialists can pinpoint the starting place of a seizure. At the same time, they also have access and can monitor hundreds of cells, even across more than just a day.
For the study, the participants agreed to categorize images of either people, animals, or places. Each image corresponds to a specific area of the brain and led to distinctive patterns in the brain cells’ electrical activity.
“These are the very neurons [that] are responsible for the way you process the world in front of you,” states Dr. Itzhak Fried, one of the study authors and a neurosurgery professor part of the University of California, Los Angeles.
Four of the study participants were asked to stay awake all night, and then recategorize images. This showed that the sleep-deprived patients’ brain cells were rather ‘sluggish’.
Dr. Fried said that “The responses are diminished, and they are smeared over longer periods of time”.
The researcher continued by pointing out that because of this, brain cells may be finding it harder to communicate. In turns, this might also lead to changes in the perception and even the memory.
Detailed study methods and findings are available in a paper in the journal Nature Medicine.
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