How does it affect you to sleep at night or not sleep well? Forgetfulness, putting things in the most unlikely places, not making great decisions, even not being able to make any decisions at all, maybe pass out in the middle of the day? You’re not alone, really, scientifically. Then, hail to all newborn parents and those who have struggled to finish their doctoral thesis!
A new study led by the University of California School of Medicine (Los Angeles) revealed for the first time how insomnia affects our brain cells exactly and disrupts the communication of brain cells with their functions. It was already known that sleep deprivation caused these “cognitive sliders“, i.e. slow behavioral performance. But we now know why insufficient sleep has such an effect on memory and visual perception.
The team, composed of researchers from different nationalities, worked with 12 epilepsy patients waiting to undergo surgery at the university hospital. Electrodes were implanted in their brains in order to determine the origins of epilepsy seizures in patients who were left sleep-deprived overnight as a result of the normal method. Patients were then asked to classify a series of images shown to them as quickly as possible. The patients’ performance decreased as their sleep came. Insomnia affected neurons‘ ability to decipher information, disrupting the process of converting visual input into conscious thoughts and meaningful responses.
Researchers focused on the temporal lobe, which is responsible for regulating visual perception and memory. “It was very exciting to observe how sleep deprivation reduces the function of brain cells,” he says. “Contrary to the usual rapid reactions, neurons were reacting very slowly and sending very weak signals, and signal transmission soured much longer than usual,” said Dr. Yuval Nile, the study’s lead author.
Another thing discovered during the study was that cell activity, in addition to slowed brain waves, occurred in various brain regions, especially the temporal lobe, was very respite. Dr. Itzhak Fried, another author of the paper on the study, summarizes this situation as follows: “This phenomenon shows that while drowsiness occurs in certain brain regions of patients and mental slippage occurs, the rest of the brain is fully awake and able to continue to function as usual.”
In short, if you need to do a more delicate job or make an important decision, it might be appropriate to get a good night’s sleep. After all, you now know why scientifically.