Blame Tired Brain Cells For Mental Lapses After Poor Sleep

Summary: UCLA researchers report sleep deprivation prevents neurons from correctly connecting with each other, resulting in temporary cognitive lapses in visual perception and memory.

Source: UCLA.

Ever sleep poorly and then walk out of the house without your keys? Or space out on the highway and nearly hit a stalled car?

A new study is the first to reveal how sleep deprivation disrupts our brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other, leading to temporary mental lapses that affect memory and visual perception.

“We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly,” said senior author Dr. Itzhak Fried, professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Tel Aviv University. “This paves the way for cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us.”

Fried led an international team in studying 12 UCLA epileptic patients who had electrodes implanted in their brains in order to pinpoint the origin of their seizures prior to surgery. Because lack of sleep can provoke seizures, these patients stay awake all night to speed the onset of an epileptic episode and shorten their hospital stay.

The team asked the patients to categorize a variety of images as fast as possible while their electrodes recorded the firing of nearly 1,500 single brain cells across the group in real time. The scientists zeroed in on the temporal lobe, which regulates visual perception and memory.

Performing the task grew more challenging as the patients grew sleepier. As the patients slowed down, their brain cells did, too.

“We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity,” said lead author Dr. Yuval Nir of Tel-Aviv University. “Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly, fired more weakly and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual.”

Lack of sleep interfered with the neurons’ ability to encode information and translate visual input into conscious thought.

The same phenomenon can occur when a sleep-deprived driver notices a pedestrian stepping in front of his car.

“The very act of seeing the pedestrian slows down in the driver’s over-tired brain,” he explained. “It takes longer for his brain to register what he’s perceiving.”

Image shows neurons.
Sleep-deprived brain cells react more slowly and fire more weakly, and their signals are more drawn out. image is credited to UCLA.

In a second finding, the researchers discovered that slower brain waves accompanied sluggish cellular activity in the same regions of the patients’ brains.

“Slow sleep-like waves disrupted the patients’ brain activity and performance of tasks,” said Fried. “This phenomenon suggests that select regions of the patients’ brains were dozing, causing mental lapses, while the rest of the brain was awake and running as usual,” said Fried.

The study’s findings provoke questions for how society views sleep deprivation.

“Inadequate sleep exerts a similar influence on our brain as drinking too much,” said Fried. “Yet no legal or medical standards exist for identifying over-tired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers.”

Fried and his colleagues plan to dive more deeply into the benefits of sleep. Future studies aim to unravel the mechanism responsible for the cellular glitches that precede mental lapses.

Previous studies have tied sleep deprivation to a heightened risk of depression, obesity, diabetes, heart attacks and stroke, as well as medical errors.

About this neuroscience research article

The paper’s other coauthors were Thomas Andrillon of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris; Amit Marmelshtein of Tel Aviv University; Nanthia Suthana of UCLA; and Guilio Tononi and Chiara Cirelli of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Funding: The research was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Human Frontier Science Program Organization, the Israel Science Foundation, the Marie Curie Career Integration Grant, the Adelis Foundation and the French Operations Research and Decision Support Society.

Source: Elaine Schmidt – UCLA
Publisher: Organized by
Image Source: image is credited to UCLA.
Original Research: Abstract for “Selective neuronal lapses precede human cognitive lapses following sleep deprivation” by Yuval Nir, Thomas Andrillon, Amit Marmelshtein, Nanthia Suthana, Chiara Cirelli, Giulio Tononi & Itzhak Fried in Nature Medicine. Published online November 6 2017 doi:10.1038/nm.4433

Cite This Article

[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]UCLA “Blame Tired Brain Cells For Mental Lapses After Poor Sleep.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 6 November 2017.
<>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]UCLA (2017, November 6). Blame Tired Brain Cells For Mental Lapses After Poor Sleep. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved November 6, 2017 from[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]UCLA “Blame Tired Brain Cells For Mental Lapses After Poor Sleep.” (accessed November 6, 2017).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]


Selective neuronal lapses precede human cognitive lapses following sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation is a major source of morbidity with widespread health effects, including increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart attack, and stroke1. Moreover, sleep deprivation brings about vehicle accidents and medical errors2,3,4 and is therefore an urgent topic of investigation. During sleep deprivation, homeostatic and circadian processes interact to build up sleep pressure5, which results in slow behavioral performance (cognitive lapses) typically attributed to attentional thalamic and frontoparietal circuits6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14, but the underlying mechanisms remain unclear3,15. Recently, through study of electroencephalograms (EEGs) in humans16,17 and local field potentials (LFPs) in nonhuman primates18 and rodents19 it was found that, during sleep deprivation, regional ‘sleep-like’ slow and theta (slow/theta) waves co-occur with impaired behavioral performance during wakefulness. Here we used intracranial electrodes to record single-neuron activities and LFPs in human neurosurgical patients performing a face/nonface categorization psychomotor vigilance task (PVT)20,21,22,23,24 over multiple experimental sessions, including a session after full-night sleep deprivation. We find that, just before cognitive lapses, the selective spiking responses of individual neurons in the medial temporal lobe (MTL) are attenuated, delayed, and lengthened. These ‘neuronal lapses’ are evident on a trial-by-trial basis when comparing the slowest behavioral PVT reaction times to the fastest. Furthermore, during cognitive lapses, LFPs exhibit a relative local increase in slow/theta activity that is correlated with degraded single-neuron responses and with baseline theta activity. Our results show that cognitive lapses involve local state-dependent changes in neuronal activity already present in the MTL.

“Selective neuronal lapses precede human cognitive lapses following sleep deprivation” by Yuval Nir, Thomas Andrillon, Amit Marmelshtein, Nanthia Suthana, Chiara Cirelli, Giulio Tononi & Itzhak Fried in Nature Medicine. Published online November 6 2017 doi:10.1038/nm.4433

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