Sleep Deprivation: What it Really Does to Your Brain
Sleep matters. You don’t need a scientist or doctor to tell you when you haven’t achieved the amount of sleep that your body and brain require to function at optimal levels. You feel drowsy, groggy, unfocused. Your driving skills and reaction times are impaired. Work is more challenging. And you may be more short-tempered, easily annoyed, or emotional when operating on less sleep. But what’s going on in your brain when you short-change yourself in the sleep department?
- Memories and Learning. Learning, surprisingly enough, is solidified during our sleeping hours. The activities we did, the concepts we learned, the information and data we collected throughout the day are actually sorted, filed away, and converted into long-term knowledge and memories while we sleep. Not only are these learnings and memories filed as we sleep, but a recent study showed the brain also prunes, or selects, which memories are important enough to be filed and which to selectively forget. Without ample sleep, our brains are unable to perform this important task in which learning is solidified.
- Cognition. When you attempt to multi-task, you need to be at your mental peak. Driving is a great example, as it requires the coordination of forward and peripheral vision, hands, and feet in split-second decision making. According to the National Sleep Foundation, driving while having been awake for 24 hours mimics a .10 blood alcohol level. Even being awake 18 hours can result in driving as though you have a .05 blood alcohol level in terms of reaction time, awareness, and alertness. Sleep deprivation can have a huge impact on cognitive functions such as driving.
- Physicality. If you’ve ever wondered if you are as sharp mentally and physically when sleep-deprived as you are when well-rested, check out the Netflix game show Awake. In it, competitors participate in mental and physical challenges after having been awake for 24 hours. Observing the discombobulation, the physical changes, the fatigue from somewhat simple tasks compared to well-rested testers; it’s enlightening! For example, sleep deprivation causes an increase in thermal pain sensitivity. Hot is hotter, cold is colder. Aka, you get a brain freeze faster drinking a slushy when you’re sleep-deprived than when you’re well-rested.
- Creativity. The creative mind tends to thrive on balanced rest. When you get adequate sleep, developing new and creative strategies at work escalates. When you practice an artistic endeavor, ideas, colors, music, nuances, and words flow more freely and in new ways. On the flip side, studies show sleep deprivation caused participants to come up with the same wrong answer again and again. Creativity allows our brains to try new pathways and conjure up new answers when something is awry.
- Personality / Mood. Ask a parent who has risen repeatedly during the night with their young child if they aren’t different in personality the next day. Ask the employee who has pulled a double shift if they aren’t a bit more grumpy or short-tempered. Sleep impacts personality and mood. It impacts how we interact with the world around us. Things that are minor or even laughable when we have slept well tend to make us edgy, irritable, or even angry when we are not. Getting the proper amount of sleep can impact relationships, both at work and at home.
While being sleep-deprived once or twice may not impact your future (although it certainly can), long term sleep deprivation has effects on the brain as well. Long term health depends on our brains getting adequate sleep on a steady basis.
- Toxins. Believe it or not, toxins accumulate in our brain and central nervous system throughout the day. Sleep allows the “gunk” that builds up to be flushed out in an exchange of cerebrospinal fluid at night as we sleep. According to Dr. Michael Thorpy, professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, these toxins that get flushed out include a protein that is a potential precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.
- Depression. This is kind of a chicken-or-the-egg situation. But numerous links have been shown between depression and sleeplessness. Deprivation exacerbates depression. Depression causes lack of sleep. And while sleeplessness is not the sole cause of depression, it certainly worsens the symptoms associated with it, especially on an ongoing basis. Having adequate sleep at night is a tool in the bag of treating depression.
- Physical Wellbeing and Longevity. A 2016 research study on radiologists revealed significant increases in blood pressure, heart rate, cardiac contractility, and cortisol (the stress hormone). Among healthcare professionals, first responders, and people working multiple jobs, sleep is often unpredictable, not continuous, and substantially reduced while working. These patterns of sleep are repeated long-term.
Getting Enough Sleep
While everyone has unique needs and requirements, experts recommend between 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. To keep your brain and body operating optimally, make sure you take the necessary steps. Shut down the electronic devices, and set the optimal environment (lighting, temperature, noise, etc.). Sleep matters to your body and your brain. To learn more about the impact of sleep on your brain, please contact us at 888-549-5519 or open the chat portal on this page.