Zoned Out: Skipping Nightly Sleep Creates Mental Lags, Study Finds



The next time you’re sitting at your desk and totally space out, you might be able to blame a lack of sleep. A recent study by UCLA researchers found that sleep deprivation hinders communication between brain cells, leading to mental lags, according to USA Today.

“We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly,” Dr. Itzhak Fried, who led the study, said in a press release. “This leads to cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us.”

According to USA Today, the study involved 12 participants. All had electrodes implanted into their brains. When asked to sort a series of images, their brains lit up almost 1,500 cells. Without sleep, however, the brain cells did not fire as strongly. Fried said in a statement to NPR that this lack of sleep alters an individual’s perception of reality.

“These are the very neurons [that] are responsible for the way you process the world in front of you,” he said.

Most health professionals recommend seven to nine hours of sleep per night, but studies show that Americans are not getting this much. A 2013 Gallip poll found that 40% of people get less sleep than recommended.

And this leaves us with sleepy workers, or worse, sleepy drivers.

“The very act of seeing the pedestrian slows down in the driver’s overtired brain,” Freid said in a statement to Forbes. “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.”

Freid equated this drowsiness to the effect of alcohol use. So, the next time you choose to stay up late and tough it out, remember that you might endanger more than just your job performance.

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