American researchers studied what happens in the brain when we sleep inadequately. Their results show that individual nerve cells are too tired to communicate.

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Many people may recognize that it’s hard to keep up with everything that happens around us after a bad night sleep. And now, for the first time, American scientists have been able to show more precisely what happens in the brain when we lack sufficient amount of sleep.

The international team of researchers measured the responsiveness of nerve cells in people who skipped a whole night’s sleep. The results show that activity in individual nerve cells was greatly reduced.

Studying 12 people who were preparing to undergo surgery at The University of California for epilepsy, with electrodes implanted in their brains in order to pinpoint the origin of their seizures.

The researchers observed that lack of sleep interfered with the neurons’ ability to encode information and translate visual input into conscious thought. They also discovered that slower brain waves accompanied sluggish cellular activity in the temporal lobe and other parts of the brain.

Previously, it has been thought that the whole system of nerve cells slows down with inadequate sleep. But now, it has been shown that individual cells lose their ability to communicate.

Lack of sleep causes the nerve cells to react more slowly, making us slower to respond to information supplied to us through our senses. And such attention deficits could certainly be dangerous, for example for those driving.

The findings have been published online in the journal Nature Medicine.


Nir et al., Selective neuronal lapses precede human cognitive lapses following sleep deprivation, published November 6, 2017 in Nature Medicine, doi: 10.1038 / nm.4433