- LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists
have now proved what college students, shift workers and parents know so
well -- the brain does not work properly after a sleepless night.
- In what could be the first step toward devising ways
to alleviate the effects of sleep deprivation and jet lag, researchers
in California have monitored brain activity to see how it compensates for
lack of sleep.
- They found that the effects of sleep deprivation differed
depending on what the brain was asked to do -- the sleepy brain increases
activity in certain regions if it has to deal with verbal problems but
slows down for mathematical dilemmas.
- On average, people are 50 percent less successful at
simple memory tests after a sleepless night than their well-rested counterparts.
- ``We don't know very much about how sleep deprivation
impairs performance, and how precisely the brain reacts to lack of sleep,''
J. Christian Gillin, psychiatry professor at the University of California
San Diego (UCSD), said in a statement.
- ``As we learn more, perhaps we will be able to devise
interventions to alleviate the behavioral impairments associated with lack
- Gillin and scientists at the Veterans Affairs Healthcare
System in San Diego tested 13 people who had been kept awake for 35 hours
and monitored their brain activity using sophisticated brain scans.
- Their research, published in the latest edition of the
science journal Nature, showed a lot of the increased brain activity was
in the parietal lobes of the brain leading them to suspect they may play
a special role in compensating for lack of sleep.
- The parietal lobes are the system primarily associated
with arithmetic performance when people are well rested.
- The parietal lobes of the sleepy volunteers were activated
during verbal tests but less so for mathematical problems.
- ``So when it (the parietal lobes) becomes less responsive
with sleeplessness, there is not a brain system available to come online
to compensate for the negative effects of sleep deprivation,'' said UCSD's
Gregory Brown, who contributed to the research.
- Jim Horne, head of the sleep research laboratory at Loughborough
University in England, said the study shed new light on what goes on inside
- ``Those bits of the brain that work the hardest in wakefulness
seem to show the greatest effects of sleep loss,'' he told Reuters. ``They
seem to try and compensate by pulling in other bits of spare brain capacity
to help out.''
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