The traditional list of every individual’s basic needs includes food, shelter, and clothing. However, there’s another requirement that should be added: sleep. It’s so essential to our health but we often don’t prioritize it. Not sleeping enough can adversely affect your health, most importantly, your brain, and lead to conditions best avoided. In 2013, Gallup revealed that the average American slept just 6.8 hours a night and. 40 per cent of Americans banked on sleeping for less than six hours. It’s a big drop from the early 1900s when people slept for an average of nine hours. What exactly does this mean for brain health? Plenty and none of it is good news. In this blog post, we’ll examine the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain.
The formation of memory is a complex process that involves three functions: acquisition, where new information enters the brain; consolidation, where the new information becomes a stable memory; and recollection, where we access the memory once it’s been stored. Acquisition and recollection happen when we are awake.
However, consolidation takes place when we sleep, through the strengthening of neural connections, creating our memories. When we don’t sleep enough, we can’t consolidate what we’ve learned, which means we can’t recollect it well either.
The less we sleep, the more likely we are to make risky decisions. In a study published in the Annals of Neurology, researchers found that chronic sleep restriction increases risk-seeking. They assessed financial risk-taking behavior after seven nights of sleep restriction and one night of acute sleep deprivation.
In another study published in the journal Sleep, it was found that sleep deprivation adversely affects decision-making at the gambling table. It raises the expectation of gains and encourages individuals to make light of their losses. Researchers found that the nucleus accumbens, an area in the brain involved with the anticipation of reward, becomes more active when high risk-high payoff choices were made when sleep-deprived. There’s also a reduced response to losses in the insula, a region of the brain involved with evaluating the emotional significance of an event.
Lack of sleep – even losing just a few hours of sleep at night – can make us angry. Research by Iowa State University confirms this. In the study, participants were divided into two groups. One group maintained a normal sleep routine while the other had their sleep restricted by two to four hours for two nights. The participants were then called to a laboratory to rate products while listening to brown noise or white noise. Those who were sleep-restricted displayed more anger compared to the group that got enough sleep.
Less sleep can lead to ‘brain fog’ – that fuzzy-headed sensation that prevents us from thinking clearly the next day. In a study by the University of California, Los Angeles, brain cell activity of sleep-deprived patients was examined. Researchers found that the cells’ behaviour changed and there was a decline in the participants’ performance on a cognitive test. What’s more, this performance change was similar to the decline arising out of alcohol use. Further, during the sleep-deprivation period, certain regions of the patients’ brains appeared to be taking mini naps even though they were awake. This caused mental lapses.
Sleep deprivation can mimic drunkenness. People who are severely sleep-deprived may slur their speech and sound drunk. Chronic lack of sleep can also affect the content and patterns of speech. In a study by Loughborough University, Leicestershire, nine subjects who underwent sleep deprivation had trouble generating words. They also had a tendency to become fixated within a semantic category and had a monotone or flattened voices.
It may sound hard to believe but sleep deprivation could lead to brain damage. In a study by Washington University School of Medicine, mice were kept awake for periods of time similar to human sleep loss. Researchers found that sleeplessness increased levels of tau, a protein associated with brain disorders like Alzheimer’s. They discovered that lack of sleep also accelerated the spread of tau tangles in the brain. While tau is normally found in the brain, tau tangles can injure nearby tissue and lead to cognitive decline.
We really like our new mattress! I use to wake up every day with my back aching. But not any more, Nuvanna has made a difference. I would highly recommend this mattress.
It’s easier said than done for many people, especially those suffering from sleep disorders. However, practising good sleep hygiene can make a world of difference. These include limiting naps to just 20 minutes, sleeping in a cool bedroom of preferably 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, and exercising early. Using a good mattress like Nuvanna matters too because it supports the body and keeps the spine aligned. Designed by a materials scientist with over 20 years of experience, Nuvanna addresses key sleep disruptors like excess heat, motion transference and poor support with its triple-layered construction.
Good sleep should always be a priority. Granted, it can be difficult to get it, especially when racing to meet deadlines and juggling life’s many responsibilities. However, we need to remember that it’s only when we’re properly rested that we can cater to our duties. With this in mind, strive to sleep for seven to nine hours every night. You’ll be amazed at the results!