Study shows our brains can take 'naps'
Written By: Abbie Smith
Scientists have found that parts of the brain can go to sleep if they are tired, even while the rest of the brain is awake.
So if you’ve ever found yourself absent-mindedly doing something bizarre like putting the cereal box in the fridge and the milk in the cupboard your brain is more than likely taking a ‘micro-nap’.
Research has found that some brain cells can go into a dormant state, and it is though this is an indicator of fatigue and can occur before you physically feel tired.
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Professor Chiara Cirelli is from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US and was the lead researcher on the project. She said: “Even before you feel fatigued, there are signs in the brain that you should stop certain activities that may require alertness.”
She added: “Specific groups of neurons may be falling asleep, with negative consequences on performance.”
These findings could explain why people have ‘senior moments’ when they are looking for something but then forget what it is they are searching for, or make silly mistakes when they are over-tired.
Scientists have previously thought that tiredness and sleep deprivation affects the whole of the brain which results in short periods of ‘micro-sleep’ which is thought to be the reason for people falling asleep at the wheel while driving.
However, these new findings – which have appeared in the journal ‘Nature’ – have shown that even before the micro-sleep stage there are indicators of tiredness and the brain could be impaired by sleep-like activity.
Studies on the brain activity of rats that were kept awake found that probes were showing some areas of ‘local sleep’ in the brains, despite the animals being awake and active.