A study has found a way to achieve the effects of being drunk without the hassle of drinking or socializing with friends. Sounds great, doesn't it?
Well before you pour your supply of sauvignon blanc down the sink, or wash your chardonnay down the toilet (where it belongs), you should know it's not as good as it first appears. In fact, you've probably been getting "drunk" in this way for much of your adult life, and you definitely don't enjoy it.
The new study, from the University of California Los Angeles, showed that sleep deprivation can slow down the communication speed of brain cells, and prevent memories from being formed properly. The researchers suggest that the effect of fatigue can have the same effect on our brains as drinking too much, and express concern that no medical test exists for identifying overly-tired drivers on the road.
The study also suggested that parts of the brain shut off during sleep deprivation, whilst you're still awake.
The researchers scanned the brains of 12 epileptic patients, just prior to surgery. Lack of sleep can provoke seizures in epileptic patients, so the patients had been kept up all night in order to speed up an onset of a seizure, in order to shorten their hospital stay, the UCLA said in a statement. This allowed the researchers to study the effect of sleep deprivation on cognitive function.
They hooked electrodes up to the participants and asked them to categorize a series of images as quickly as they could. The electrodes measured the firing of brain cells, particularly in the temporal lobe. They found that as the patients grew sleepier, their brain cell activity became dampened.
“Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly and fired more weakly, and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual," lead author Yuval Nir of Tel Aviv University said.
The lack of sleep was interfering with the participants' ability to translate visual input into conscious thought, which may have serious implications for drivers.
“The very act of seeing the pedestrian slows down in the driver’s overtired brain,” Dr. Itzhak Fried, senior author of the study said. “It takes longer for his brain to register what he’s perceiving."
"Severe fatigue exerts a similar influence on the brain to drinking too much. Yet no legal or medical standards exist for identifying overtired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers.”
More bizarrely, the study found that parts of the brain were resting, whilst the participants remained awake.
“Slow, sleep-like waves disrupted the patients’ brain activity and performance of tasks,” Fried said.
“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.”