A research study on epileptic patients found that sleep deprivation can result in temporary mental lapses which could affect memory and visual perception. Deprivation of sleep could distort the brain cells, including the ability to communicate with each other and resulting in a dilemma of reflexes just as in the drunken state.
Dr. Itzhak Fried, professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Tel Aviv University, who led the study said, "We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly. This paves the way for cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us."
The international team led by Dr. Itzhak Fred studied 12 UCLA epileptic patients who had electrodes implanted in their brains, which studied the origin of seizures. The patients were asked to remain awake throughout the night as lack of sleep provoked seizures which came as prelude to the epileptic symptoms.
The patients were then asked to interpret and categorize a variety of images as fast as possible. It was noted that the electrodes recorded firing of nearly 1,500 single brain cells at the same time in every patient. The researchers adjusted the temporal lobe, which regulates visual perception and memory to zero and found that the patients became sleepier. The brain activities of the patients slowed down as the brain cell zeroed to the sleep state.
Dr. Yuval Nir of Tel-Aviv University said, "We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity. Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly, fired weak signals and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual."
The lack of sleep delayed the neurons ability to interpret visual images into conscious thoughts. The researchers said that this phenomenon could occur when a sleepless driver encounters a pedestrian stepping in front of his car. The over-tired brain of the driver may not understand the situation and result in his very slow actions. This may be a lead reason for many road accidents.
The researchers also said that inadequate sleep may result in sluggish cellular activities in the brain. This results in a condition which is similar to the state of too much alcohol consumption. According to the researchers, this phenomenon suggests that selected regions of the patients' brain would doze off and result in mental lapses while the rest of the brain would remain awake and functions normally.
Researchers said that no law of medical standards existed to identify over-tired drivers on the road the same way in targeting drunk drivers.
The research team aims to discover the mechanism which has been responsible for the cellular errors that precede mental lapses. Previous studies have found that sleep deprivation can increase the risk of depression, obesity, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.