What lack of sleep does to your brain

Lack Of Sleep And Your Brain – 11 Facts You Need To Know

How many hours of sleep a night do you get and is it enough?

Overall, we tend to seriously underestimate what lack of sleep does to our brains.

Check out in this article why a good night’s sleep is so important, how much sleep you need and the 11 lesser-known effects of sleep deprivation on our brains.  And lastly – a few ideas as to what you can do to get a better night’s sleep!

How Much Sleep Do We Need And What Counts As Sleep Deprivation?

The amount of sleep required by healthy adults to function well on a day-to-day basis ranges between 7 to 9 hours.  Children and teens need more than that due to their developing bodies and brains.  The need for sleep decreases with age, but even older people require a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night in order to maintain good health and brain function.

However, it seems that only about 30% of us get sufficient sleep on a regular basis.  There are many reasons for this – whether it’s our busy schedules, the many demands placed on us, too much coffee, screen time or partying, or simply our inability to fall or stay asleep.  As a result, making do with less sleep easily becomes a normal state of affairs.

This is confirmed by the National Institute of Health, according to which the average adult sleeps less than 7 hours per night.

Many people would argue that this is enough – or has to be enough – and that they function perfectly well with this amount of sleep.

The effect of lack of sleep on the brain

The Benefits Of A Good Night’s Sleep

Most of us know that we feel a lot better after a full and good night’s sleep.

However, we tend to underestimate how much good sleep is essential to our bodies and brains, and the resulting beneficial effects on our mood, levels of energy, mental sharpness, resilience and ability to handle stress.

During times of sleep, heart rate and blood pressure drop, the digestive system gets a break, human growth hormones are produced, the immune system is activated, etc.  Our body gets a true rest and a chance to put things back into balance.  Good sleep even promotes weight loss.

The benefits of a good night's sleep

What Lack Of Sleep Does To Your Brain – 11 Critical Effects You Need To Be Aware Of

Lack of sleep has a surprising number of adverse effects on the body and the brain.

First and foremost, it causes tiredness and decreased concentration – often putting us at greater risk from accidents and other mishaps. We become less resilient to stress and pressure.

More insidiously, science documents that T-cells – key fighters in immune system arsenal – go down.  At the same time, inflammatory chemicals rise, with corresponding adverse effects on health conditions as heart disease and arthritis, and our ability to fight off colds and the flu.

Not only that.  Little do we know that while 7 hours of sleep each night increase our overall survival chances,  sleeping on average less than 6 hours appears to increase our risk of dying.

Further, lack of sleep also has significant side effects on the brain, as critical research has been able to demonstrate.  Check out these the following 11 factors that seem to play a role.

1. Lost Memories

The hippocampus plays a key role in memory retention while we are awake.  This memory is “backed up like a computer” when we sleep at night, following the same activity pattern.

Lack of sleep, therefore, may prevent memories being enforced in this way,

2. False Memories

Once a brain is sleep-starved, it can fail to encode memories properly during waking hours as well, due to altered functioning of key parts of the brains involved in memory retention.

As a result, we are more likely to encode erroneous information into memories after a night without sleep.

3. Anger

Sleep deprivation causes critical parts of the brain to properly correspond with each other.  Consequently, that part of the brain that produces spontaneous emotional responses (the Amygdala) fails to be regulated by other parts of the brain (prefrontal cortex).

This can result in uncontrolled emotional responses – including anger.

4. Impaired Wit

Loss of sleep also impairs general cognitive processes and we lose the ability to think on our feet.  Suddenly we find ourselves lost in and losing track of conversations.

5. Slurred Speech

When we miss out on sleep, with the impaired wit also comes the slurring of speech – the result of reduced functioning of the temporal lobe.  This is the part of the brain that is responsible for interpreting sounds and processing responses through our speech and words we choose.

6. Hallucinations

The well-rested brain functions well in screening external stimuli – such as sounds, sights and smells – and producing a coordinated response.  In an over-tired brain, the ability to screen these inputs fails, and we end up in sensory overload.  This may cause us to imagine things, even objects, that don’t really exist.

7.  Head In The Clouds

When we suffer from sleep deprivation, brain activity related to being able to keep attention lapses.  Whereas we can hide our boredom reasonably well if well-rested we lose this ability when sleep-deprived, by also exhibiting impaired visual processing, making us look like – well – a bit stupid.

8. Cronut Binges

Loss of sleep corresponds with loss of activity in the frontal lobe of the brain which controls decision-making.  This corresponds with heightened activity of the Amygdala – that part of the brain that controls emotional responses.  Together, these responses impair our ability to keep control over our urges – whatever they are.

9. Risky Decision-Making

When we are sleep-deprived, our normal functions in the prefrontal cortex of the brain related to motivation and reward become tangled.  We end up making more risky decisions and not worry too much about the consequences.

10. Cerebral Shrinkage

Healthy adults with a regular history of sleep deprivation appear to be linked to shrinkage in critical parts of the brain, although it is not clear which part causes the other.

11. Brain Damage

Last but not least is the fact that “all-nighters” which most people are familiar with at one or other time during their lifetime seems to cause physical damage to the brain, in particular the brain stem.

The following infographic summarises the 11 side effects of sleep deprivation on different parts of the brain described above.






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