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What’s the neurological difference between anaesthesia and sleep? © Getty Images

What’s the neurological difference between anaesthesia and sleep?

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'Close your eyes, go to sleep, Mr Sandman is waiting...'

Asked by: Sophia Wan, Croydon

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If a neuroscientist used electroencephalography (EEG) to record your brain’s electrical activity while you were under anaesthesia, the results would look different from how they appear when you are sleeping. In fact, your brain waves under anaesthesia would more closely resemble those seen were you to have the terrible misfortune of falling into a coma after brain illness or injury. Doctors often tell surgery patients that they will be ‘put to sleep’ during the operation, but in terms of the neurological effects of the anaesthesia, it would be more accurate (and more unsettling) to tell them that they will be put into a reversible coma.


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Authors

Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.

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