Sleep Deprivation Fries Human Brain

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By Afza Fathima | June 25, 2014 2:18 PM EST

A tired brain can make a pleasant human being get cranky, get annoyed easily, turn daffy and be unable to do the simplest of things.

A psychology professor at the Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Texas in Austan, Todd Maddox, said, "The brain regions that are impaired when you are sleep-deprived are the same ones that are impaired with aging." He tried to understand what goes wrong, whether the brain acts this way because of lack of sleep or normal aging or symptoms of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. 

Reuters
Sleep deprivation can lead to frying of the brain.

Maddox wanted to find paths that can help improve the execution by people with impaired brains and those in high-pressure jobs like doctors, firefighters, who can probably become sleep deprived. Neurorehabilitation is a place where people learn to teach the unaffected parts of their brain to perform tasks done by the parts that are affected by sleep deprivation, aging or chronic diseases.

Maddox has been impairing brains by sleep depriving them to understand how they work. A recent study by Maddox and his colleague from the University of Texas, David Schnyer, made use of a group of West Point cadets to understand how information processing and information categorisation were influenced by deprivation of sleep. The cadets were made to perform tasks on a computer that uses striatum, a part of the brain associated with implicit learning-information categorisation. There were shown lines and were asked to categorise them into two groups according to instructions which didn't make much sense.

This exercise, used by them in earlier studies, showed that people are forced to occupy the frontal cortex with complex activities and they did better than those who used their entire brains.

Maddox said, "The best way to solve these tasks is to view hundreds of these lines-you have to gain experience. You can't overthink it and come up with a verbal rule; you have to turn off the frontal cortex, stop thinking and go with your gut." After a good night's sleep, the cadets worked on the task. The cadets were divided into groups of two, where one set was kept awake all night and the others, enjoyed a night of good sleep. The researchers found that due to lack of sleep, the frontal cortex was more affected than the striatum. Those who let the striatum perform were able to do the task almost as well as when they had no sleep.

Maddox explained that they found people falling back on conscious verbal strategies when they were tired. They started drawing on these brain regions that were massively broken down.

Overthinking usually happens when one is sleep deprived, and this usually leads to that part of the brain getting cooked. Maddox noted that some people were much more highly susceptible to sleep deprivation. 

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(Photo: Reuters / Ross D Franklin)
Sleep deprivation can lead to frying of the brain.
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