Narrator: This is Science Today. According to the National Sleep Foundation, almost two-thirds of Americans are sleep deprived. And yet, Dr. Chris Gillin, of the University of California, San Diego conducted studies suggesting the brain may have an adaptive resource to make up for sleep deprivation. Still, Gillin says a lack of sleep should not be taken lightly.
Gillin: Performance drops when people are sleep deprived. They're at increased risk of automobile accidents and it certainly has been implicated in some very serious disasters. For example, the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster occurred in the middle of the night and it was thought that sleep deprived employees made some human errors that resulted in that.
Narrator: Gillin and his colleagues found that the sleepier a person was, the greater the activation in a part of the brain that controls judgment and working memory.
Gillin: This was unexpected to us, but it does suggest that the brain does have compensatory mechanisms and it's not just a simple sleep deprivation effect. It's probably really related to the task that the subject is performing and to a number of other variables, such as how well they're performing or how sleepy they are.
Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.