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Sunday 27th May 2018

Sleepy brain prone to shutdowns

23rd May 2008

The brain is adversely affected by lack of sleep, even for one night, in spite of periods of wakefulness that appear to denote normal functioning, new research has shown.


The sleep-deprived brain is unstable and prone to sudden shutdowns similar to a power failure, somewhere between sleep and wakefulness.

The study has implications for safety, especially for people who drive their cars when lacking sleep, as sleep deprivation can cause up to a four-second lapse in attention which could lead to a major accident.

People who are sleep-deprived, researchers led by David Dinges of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine said, perform as if simultaneously asleep and awake, because their brains switch  very rapidly between the two states.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, said people who have missed out on sleep alternate between periods of near-normal brain function and dramatic lapses in attention and visual processing.

Brain images of 24 adults performing simple tasks, on one occasion when they had missed a night's sleep and on another when they were well-rested, showed significant, momentary lapses in several areas of the brain in people who were sleep-deprived.

Using a type of brain imaging known as functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, which measures blood flow in the brain, researchers said the loss of sleep apparently rendered the brain incapable of fending off the urge to sleep.

The subjects were sitting up doing a task they learned and were working very hard at doing their best, Dinges said.

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