With the end of Daylight Saving Time marking the opportunity to “fall backward,” many people are happy to have gotten the extra hour of sleep this past weekend.
Sleep deprivation has many well-known negative consequences including reduced cognitive functioning and poor performance at work or school.
But now, new research explains exactly why sleep deprivation affects memory and our ability to process information the following day. In other words, we finally have some answers that explain why we space out when we haven’t gotten enough sleep.
The new study from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is the first of its kind to show how sleep deprivation interrupts the communication between brain cells which leads to mental lapses.
For the study, a team of researchers observed twelve UCLA epileptic patients who had electrodes implanted in their brains.
The researchers had the patients categorize a series of images as quickly as possible while they stayed up.
The longer the patients stayed awake, the task of categorizing the pictures became much more difficult to perform. The longer the task took, the slower the reaction and communication in the subject’s brain cells.
“We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity. Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly, fired more weakly and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual,” said Dr. Yuval Nir, the lead author of the study.
The results show that sleep deprivation affects the brain’s ability to encode information which interferes with visual input and conscious thought. It takes longer for us to register what we’re seeing or experiencing when sleep deprived.
The researchers hope their findings will put an emphasis on sleep deprivation and avoiding the troubling consequences it can bring with it.