Sleepless nights may affect the brain as much as alcohol, study suggests

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'This paves the way for cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us'.

As part of their assessment, seizures were induced by sleeplessness: participants were kept awake through the night until they experienced a seizure, so the electrical activity in the brain could be duly monitored.

Sleep and Brain activity are inter-related to each other.

The clinical study by Yuval Nir from Tel Aviv University and colleagues was published in the journal Nature Medicine. In total, the activity of nearly 1,500 brain cells was recorded across the 12 participants. This disrupted brain activity affects how one can effectively perform their tasks.

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

The scientists zeroed in on the temporal lobe, which regulates visual perception and memory.

The study, lead by Dr Itzhak Fried from the University of California, found that parts of the brain can shut themselves off in people who are particularly exhausted - leading people to struggle to connect visual information with conscious thought. Fried explained that for example if a person is driving a vehicle and another person jumps in front of it, a sleep deprived person would have a different response than one who has had adequate sleep. It takes longer for his brain to register what he's perceiving'.

However, the link between tiredness and road traffic accidents is not a new one: it's estimated that hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries in the United States alone are caused each year by drivers dozing off at the wheel and not being able to react fast enough.

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The team further reports that this sluggish neuronal activity was also accompanied by slower brain wave patterns in the same region of the brain.

The study's findings raise questions about how society views sleep deprivation.

Prof Fried, of the University of California, added: "It appears select regions of the patients' brains were dozing, causing mental lapses".

Experts also say that sleep deprivation can be as bad if not worse than drink driving because parts of the brain can actually shut themselves down in order to "sleep" and rest while the person is awake. "Yet no legal or medical standards exist for identifying over-tired drivers the same way we target drunk drivers".

The worldwide team behind the study wants to see the problem of sleep deprivation taken more seriously, both in the harm it can do to our own bodies and the risks that we might be taking when we get behind the wheel or do our daily jobs.

Not only does it affect your ability to drive, sleep deprivation has also been linked to diabetes, obesity and depression.

The research received support from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute of Mental Health and other organizations.

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