Lack of sleep can cause brain ‘shutdown’

By • Published: August 26th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Remember the time you were working on your laptop, so deep in thought you didn’t notice the blinking warning on the screen that was practically screaming, “Hey, the battery is about to die!”? Then the screen went blank… and no combination of control, alt, whatever would bring back the work you lost.

It turns out your brain has more in common with your laptop than you may have thought. Not getting enough rest triggers your body’s own sleep mode, but instead of a blinking warning telling you to recharge, researchers say your brain pulls a scarier trick.

A recent University of Pennsylvania study shows that sleep deprivation causes the brain to bounce back and forth between sleep and consciousness, sort of like when electricity flickers during a storm.

And all it takes is one sleepless night to trigger this shutdown mode.

The researchers studied people when they were well-rested and after they missed one night of sleep. Brain scans showed certain parts of the brain switching off as the study participants worked on tasks when they were tired. This didn’t happen when they’d slept well.

These temporary brain shutdowns could have deadly consequences if they occur during situations where paying attention is a must. U-S traffic statistics link sleepiness to seventy-one-thousand traffic injuries and fifteen-hundred deaths each year.

So think of a good eight hours of sleep as your brain’s power cord. After all, you could lose a lot more than a document if this computer cuts out.