Skip to main content
CNN.com CNN.com -- Health
ASK AN EXPERT
Got a question about a health story in the news or a health topic? Here's your chance to get an answer. Send us your questions about general health topics, diet and fitness and mental health. If your question is chosen, it could be featured on CNN.com's health page with an answer from one of our health experts, or by a participant in the CNNhealth community.




* CNN encourages you to contribute a question. By submitting a question, you agree to the following terms found below.
You may not post any unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. By submitting your question, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your questions(s) and accompanying personal identifying and other information you provide via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statment.
Thank you for your question!

It will be reviewed and considered for posting on CNNHealth.com. Questions and comments are moderated by CNN and will not appear until after they have been reviewed and approved. Unfortunately, because of the voume of questions we receive, not all can be posted.

Submit another question or Go back to CNNHealth.com

Read answers from our experts: Living Well | Diet & Fitness | Mental Health | Conditions
CNN Medical Unit: Daily Dose (What's this?)
Get the reporting, research and analysis behind on-air stories straight from the CNN Medical Unit, led by chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Brain shuts down when it doesn't get sleep

    • Losing just one night of sleep can make the brain function unpredictably
    • It can even turn off and on spontaneously while you're trying to focus
    • Don't make huge life decisions or drive long hauls while sleep deprived
  • Bottom Line: Losing just one night's sleep can result in brain lapses
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
Brains may not be fully able to fend off involuntary drive to sleep, resulting in lapses when sleep deprived.

Brains may not be fully able to fend off involuntary drive to sleep, resulting in lapses when sleep deprived.

Overview

A May 2008 study in the Journal of Neuroscience finds that losing just one night of sleep makes the brain unstable and prone to sudden shutdowns.

Questions and answers

According to this study, what's going on with the brain and sleep?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN chief medical correspondent: It was a study of 24 adults tracked during visual tasks at two times via MRI: when they were well-rested and when they were sleep deprived for one night. The study found that more parts of the brain are affected by just one night than previously thought.

This study found these effects: reduced ability of frontal and parietal control regions to raise activation in response to lapses, dramatically reduced visual sensory cortex activation and reduced thalamic activation.

Certain parts of the brain have unstable and unreliable responses with sleep deprivation. The researcher says that it's as if the brain is both asleep and awake, and they are switching between each other very rapidly. He likens it to being a dark room: When the light is on, your brain is working properly. However, when someone is flickering the lights on and off intermittently, the lights are suddenly going off and on.

Is the brain actually giving out on you when it's fatigued?

advertisement

Gupta: This study suggests that the loss of sleep can render some brains incapable of fully fending off the involuntary drive to sleep. These lapses can happen for a millisecond, but according to these images, the brain is impaired during those short blackouts. The author likened brain patterns seen through functional MRI to heartbeats. When you're well-rested, you generally have a steady rhythm in brain function. When you're sleep deprived, the brain is moving at a highly variable pattern.

Is everyone prone to these lapses when they're sleep deprived?

Gupta: Sleep researchers have a hypothesis that some people are resistant to this effect. Some people are affected after very little sleep deprivation. Those who are affected by just one night's sleep loss are approximately 15 percent to 20 percent of the population. They're called type 3 and they need sleep. Another 15 percent to 20 percent are type 1 and can go a long period without sleep. Those who are resilient have some part of neurobiology that prevents the sleep switch from occurring.

Background
CNN spoke to Dr. David Dinges of University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

CNN: What are some warning signs that we need sleep?

Dinges: You fall asleep in 5 minutes or if you notice that you have lapses and are suddenly missing things or slow to respond to something or variable in attention. However, these behavioral effects can also occur in other conditions. Assuming that's not the case, and this is a matter of fighting eyelid closure, there are problems associated with the working memory. For example, losing business cards or minor things are not the time to engage in emotionally evocative or big life decisions or long-haul drives.

People should get some sleep before they do anything serious. Many people do recognize and listen to their behavior, but many people don't listen or can't listen. In this state, the brain changes suddenly and uncontrollably, usually during attention tasks and cognitive tasks, so you don't want to put yourself in the position of doing one of those tasks if you're sleep deprived.

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print
Quick Job Search
keyword(s):
enter city:

The information contained on this page does not and is not intended to convey medical advice. CNN is not responsible for any actions or inaction on your part based on the information that is presented here. Please consult a physician or medical professional for personal medical advice or treatment.

Home  |  World  |  U.S.  |  Politics  |  Crime  |  Entertainment  |  Health  |  Tech  |  Travel  |  Living  |  Money  |  Sports  |  Time.com
© 2014 Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.