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Tired neurons caught nodding off in sleep-deprived rats
Date:4/27/2011

leep. Yet, the rats' overall EEG, a measure of brain electrical activity at the scalp, confirmed that they were awake, as did their behavior. So neuronal tiredness differs from more overt microsleep 3-15-second lapses with eyes closing and sleep-like EEG that is sometimes experienced with prolonged wakefulness. It is more analogous to local lapses seen in some forms of epilepsy, suggest the researchers.

However subtle, having tired neurons did interfere with task performance. If neurons switched off in the motor cortex within a split second before a rat tried to reach for a sugar pellet, it decreased its likelihood of success by 37.5 percent. And the overall number of such misses increased significantly with prolonged wakefulness. This suggests that tired neurons, and accompanying increases in slow wave activity, might help to account for the impaired performance of sleep-deprived people who may seem behaviorally and subjectively awake.

Subsets of neurons going offline with longer wakefulness is, in many ways, the mirror image of progressive changes that occur during recovery sleep following a period of sleep deprivation. Tononi suggests that both serve to maintain equilibrium part of the compensatory mechanisms that regulate sleep need. Just as sleep deprivation produces a brain-wide state of instability, it may also trigger local instability in the cortex, possibly by depleting levels of brain chemical messengers. So, tired neurons might nod off as part of an energy-saving or restorative process for overloaded neuronal connections.

"Research suggests that sleep deprivation during adolescence may have adverse emotional and cognitive consequences that could affect brain development," noted NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. "The broader line of studies to which this belongs, are, in part, considering changes in sleep patterns of the developing brain as a potential index to the health of neural connections that can begin to go aw
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Contact: Jules Asher
NIMHpress@nih.gov
301-443-7855
NIH/National Institute of Mental Health
Source:Eurekalert  

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