Researchers know that sleep deprivation acts as a brake on the brain, slowing alertness, reaction time, and memory. But until recently, scientists have been looking at the brain section by section to see which areas are affected by lack of sleep.
Now, Columbia University Medical Center researchers, taking a more holistic approach, have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in two recent studies to determine which brain areas change their activity levels together to form a network associated with sleep deprivation. In the latest study, Yaakov Stern, professor of clinical neuropsychology, Christian Habeck, postdoctoral research scientist in Columbia's Taub Institute, and colleagues examined the effects of sleep deprivation on the short-term memory of 19 young adults who went two days without sleep. The researchers identified a network of brain areas whose activity levels dropped after sleep deprivation and correlated with diminished memory performance.
"Although further research is needed, our findings suggest which brain regions need to be stimulated during sleep deprivation to overcome the cognitive effects of sleep loss," Habeck says. The research was published March 28 online in the journal Cerebral Cortex.