According to the study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, a brain deprived of sleep–even for one night–becomes unstable and prone to shutdowns akin to power failure. Sleep deprived people “alternate between periods of near-normal brain function and dramatic lapses in attention and visual processing.” In the study they did brain imaging studies of 24 adults performing simple tasks involving visual attention when they were well rested and when they had missed a night’s sleep. They found significant, momentary lapses in several areas of the brain when the people were sleep deprived, but not when well rested.
This study goes to show that the body’s recuperative and reparative functions are so substantial that it will do what it needs to in order to carry out these essential processes, even if that means doing it piecewise. The brain will override its conscious command center little by little until shutting itself down completely when the sleep deprivation goes on for lengths which compromise the integrity of the whole. Bam! Out for the count. A truly amazing feat of self preservation.
As I always say: The human body is an incredible self-healing, self-regulating system. It will do what it needs to for survival. Push it too hard and it will shut down for repair. The best thing is to not let yourself get to that point. But if you do–don’t worry–your body will do what it needs to. Just pray it doesn’t abort while you’re driving down the highway.