November 20, 2017
You have tossed and turned all night and as you watch the sun rise, you crawl out of bed, get dressed, grab a cup of coffee and race out the door. Now this may seem like a normal morning for everyone but getting behind the wheel when you are yawning, could be more dangerous than you think.
According to new research, scientists have now discovered that the actual problem with sleep deprivation is that your brain cells switch off while you are still awake, leading to anything from forgetting your keys to car accidents.
This research suggests that brain cells fail to communicate with each other properly when a person is tired – affecting memory and visual perception.
Scientists scanned the brains of 12 sleep-deprived people and found how fatigue interfered with the ability of neurons to encode information and translate what was seen into conscious thought.
“We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly,” said the report’s senior author, Itzhak Fried, Professor of Neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Tel Aviv University.
“This paves the way for cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us. The very act of seeing the pedestrian slows down in the driver’s overtired brain. It takes longer for his brain to register what he’s perceiving. Inadequate sleep exerts a similar influence on our brain as drinking too much. Yet no legal or medical standards exist for identifying overtired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers.”
The researchers asked patients to categorise images as fast as possible and discovered that the task became increasingly more difficult as the subjects became sleepier and their brain cells slowed down. “We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity,” said the lead author, Yuval Nir of Tel Aviv University. “Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly, fired more weakly and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual.”
“As well as cells slowing down, brainwaves also appeared to become less frequent, which suggested that the area of the brain was trying to sleep,” the scientists 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,” Dr Fried said.
Sleep deprivation has been the subject of a number of studies and has already been linked to a higher risk of diabetes, obesity, depression and heart attacks.
Studies have found that not only do tired people eat more sugar, making them more vulnerable to diabetes, a lack of sleep can lead to insulin resistance where the body finds it more difficult to break down sugar.
Research conducted in 2016 found that problems falling to sleep, struggling to stay asleep and waking up tired, increased the risk of a heart attack or stroke by 27 percent, 11 percent, and 18 percent respectively.
How can you combat the risk of fatigue while driving?
Ensure that you get the recommended 8 hours of sleep each night and if travelling far distances, make sure that you take a break every two hours or every 160km. Travelling with a passenger can help keep you awake and take over driving duty when you feel tired.
Make sure you get adequate rest this festive season and be aware of other motorists on the road. Keep a safe following distance and rest assured that Matrix is right by your side, every step of the way.
For more information about Matrix’s value-added services, visit www.matrix.co.za or contact our Customer Care team on 011 654 8090.