Research in rats has shown that the main parts of brains, which are sleep deprived may switch off thereby hindering decision making. This is a wake-up call to those who think that minimal sleep has no effects on the body.
Scientists exposed lab rats to stay awake for extremely longer periods and then made observations on the electrical activity of the aforementioned rats. The authors’ report that the decision making location of the brain seemed to have experienced a condition referred to as “local sleep” which has been observed in humans with sleep deprivation.
Giulio Tononi; a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison who is also the study co-author notes that the results are quite surprising in that it was hard to differentiate between the rats’ whose sections of the brains ‘switched off’ and those that were fully alert.
However, despite undergoing local sleep, the lab rats’ behaviour and activity of the brain was not affected as much suggesting that they (rats) were fully alert.
Tononi further added that this local sleep observation should not be considered an intriguing observation of unknown importance since it actually makes the affected person change their behaviour hence making a mistake.
The Role of Sleep in Resetting Neurons
Tononi and his colleagues connected electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors to the rodents’ heads so as to record the brain’s electrical activity. Their predictions were later confirmed; when the rats were fully alert, the nerve cells that gather and transmit signals to the brain fired repeatedly and irregularly.
Conversely, when the rats were in sleep mode, their neurons fired in a less pronounced and regular up and down pattern, which is reported as a “slow wave” on the electroencephalogram. This sleep stage is also referred to as non-rapid eye movement and is responsible for approximately 80% of all sleep in both rodents and human beings.
Tononi also added that rats were known for sleeping too much and together with his research team, they used toys to distract them so that they could stay awake for a few hours.
The results by the research team indicated that the neurons in two sections of the sleep-deprived rats’ cerebral cortexes went to an inactive stage which was finally concluded to be sleep.
Reason For Sleeping
The reason why parts of an awake brain switch off is unknown, but it is believed that it is related to the reason as to why mammals sleep. Tononi whose findings appeared in the journal Nature further adds that this question is yet to be answered. More about the reasons as to why we sleep can be found in the National Geographic.
Numerous assumptions have been put forward, and one of them states that neurons are involved in continuous recording of information hence reach a point where they switch off to reset and continue the cycle. This allows them to refresh and prepare to record information.
Going by the aforementioned assumption, if it’s true, then depriving yourself of sleep means that you will be overworking your neurons since they have a limit which dictates how much input they should process.
Regarding this issue, Tononi added that neurons to take a rest although it may not be recommended and there are repercussions in case of unnecessary errors.
The Most Attentive People Make Mistakes Too
Tononi also said that the repercussions associated with lack of sleep are quite dangerous and these mistakes are not uncommon.
The recent past has seen more and more people not getting enough sleep. This is corroborated by the fact that 29% of the adult population in the United States indicated sleeping for less than 7 hours at any given night. Moreover, the United States Centers for Disease Control, and Prevention reported that 50 to 70 million of the U.S adult population had sleep-related disorders, which were chronic or wakefulness problems. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults need approximately seven to nine hours of sleep daily.
However, Tononi cautioned against feeling sleepy so as to make the silly mistakes. He concluded by saying that some important brain sections that are responsible for judgement decision making may not be alert even though you may feel fit and fine.