News, Culture & Society

Scientists identify a way to spot when your brain is impaired by lack of shut-eye 

A step closer to a sleep loss ‘breathalyzer’: Scientists identify tell-tale eye movements that show when a person’s brain is impaired by lack of shut-eye

  • Researchers tracked people who were kept awake for as many as 28 hours
  • They found ‘dramatic impairments’ in continuous eye-tracking movements and rapid scanning movements
  • Lack of sleep has been linked to health including obesity, causing up to 30% of car crashes

Particular eye movements could betray when your brain is impaired by a lack of sleep, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that eye-tracking movements were significantly impaired from people who didn’t get to snooze enough.

Additionally, they found they could differentiate when these movements were impaired from lack of shut-eye compared to impairments from alcohol or a traumatic brain injury.  

The team, from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Center (NASA) Ames Research Center in California, says its findings show a need for a ‘measure of neural deficits’ from sleep deprivation to prevent workers from committing dangerous accidents. 

A new study from the NASA Ames Research Center in California says that tracking eye-movements were significantly impaired from people who didn’t get enough sleep (file image)

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between seven to nine hours of sleep every night.

However, a 2016 report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention found that one in three US adults sleep fewer than the recommended hours.

Poor sleep quality has been shown to raise the risk of several health problems including obesity, hypertension and diabetes. 

Additionally, a 1988 study found that sleep deprivation plays a role is up to 30 percent of car crashes.  

For the new study, published in The Journal of Physiology, the team had 12 participants sleep a standard 8.5 hours per night for two weeks.

During this time period, they were neither allowed to consume alcohol or caffeine nor do drugs.

At the end of the two weeks, the volunteers spent as many as 28 hours awake in the Fatigue Countermeasures Laboratory at NASA Ames.

Researchers measured both continuous eye-tracking movements and rapid scanning movements. 

They found that both were ‘dramatically impaired’ and participants had trouble with speed and direction.

The team says the results have important implications for those work in jobs that require visual and motor coordination including pilots, surgeons or military service members. 

‘There are significant safety ramifications for workers who may be performing tasks that require precise visual coordination of one’s actions when sleep deprived or during night shifts,’ said senior author Lee Stone, a research psychologist at NASA Ames.

‘By looking at a wide variety of components of human eye movements, we could not only detect sleepiness but also distinguish it from other factors, such as alcohol use or brain injury, that we have previously shown cause subtly different deficits in eye movements.’


Comments are closed.