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    Sleep Deprivation: The Science Behind Sluggishness

    How do you feel when you don’t sleep enough? Sluggish? Slow? Dull? Well, a team of researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) completed a new study that yielded results to validate those sensations.


    Dr. Itzhak Fried and his team evaluated 12 patients with severe epilepsy. As part of the study, doctors placed wires in each person’s brain to identify the origin of the patient’s seizures. Then, the team measured electrical activity in individual brain cells. Because patients with severe epilepsy are often kept awake to induce seizures during an evaluation of this sort, Dr. Fried and his team were also presented with the opportunity to test the effects of sleep deprivation on perception and memory.

    As a primary task in the evaluation, the patients were asked to categorize images of faces, plants, and animals. This activity caused cells in the brain involved in perception to produce distinctive patterns of electrical activity that were measured by the team of researchers. After the initial exercise, 4 of the 12 patients remained awake overnight and repeated the exercise the following day. The results reported that their responses were diminished and the electrical activity in the brain was slower and weaker.

    In other words, this study provided proof that sleep deprivation affects the ways our brain cells communicate and, in turn, leads to mental lapses, which can affect perception and memory. Without enough sleep, our brains cannot effectively learn or remember information. Dr. Fried believes his study supports the movement to limit the hours that doctors-in-training should work.

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