9 Effects of Your Brain on No Sleep
Author: Justin Mckibben
Sleep… good! No sleep… bad! Seems legit, right?
I mean honestly most people would agree that while sleeping life away is generally a waste, it is still pretty important to get the sleep you need. Rest and relaxation do a lot for our bodies, and our minds. It goes without saying that while living the dream sounds awesome, the effects a lack of sleep can have on your brain have the capacity to make life a nightmare.
According to the Institute of Medicine, an estimated 50-70 million adults in the United States have sleep difficulties, and I can identify. Solid hours of sleep is hard to come by in this day and age of constantly trying to find time between work, school and anything else.
Using information from several sources, including:
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- International Journal of Occupational Health and Medicine
- UC Berkeley Walker Sleep Lab
A list has been compromised to explain the side effects of not getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep at night.
- Lost Memories
The hippocampus is a moon-shaped structure in the temporal lobe of the brain which exhibits a distinct pattern of neural activity when the waking mind learns new information.
Scientists believe while we sleep our brain “replays” new patterns to help instill new information, and lack of sleep disrupts that process of encoding it in long term memory.
- False Memories
Lack of rest may actually cause the brain to incorporate misinformation into memories of events observed after a night without sleep, similar to the effects created when memories are lost due to lack of “replay” processing we talked about earlier… we did talk about that right?
Losing sleep primes the brain to focus on negative experiences, misinterpret facial expressions, and pick fights with others.
This emotional volatility is believed to be a product of interrupted communication between brain regions such as:
- Amygdala- limbic system critical to emotional processing
- Medial Prefrontal Cortex- helps regulate feelings
This lost connection can leave our moods unchecked and unbalanced.
- Impaired Wit
Sleep deprivation impacts your cognitive processing, such as divergent thinking which helps us switch topics in conversation. Scientists suggest the brain draws on divergent thinking to compensate for strained cognitive functions when activity in the inferior frontal gyrus increases due to loss of sleep.
- Slurred Speech
Language processing is commonly associated with the temporal lobe in the brain, and in well-rested people it is highly active. However in the exhausted mind this part of the brain slacks off, and you might slip over your words until you catch a cat nap.
- Risky Business
Sleep-deprived people tend to take greater risks, because their prefrontal cortex, acting as the reward center of the brain, starts to spark expecting a pay-off.
Also when people are losing sleep and those risky choices fail, the anterior insula (connected to punishment) decreases in activity causing them to care less about their bad decisions.
The frontal lobe controls decision making. In a sleep-starved state and in collaboration with the amygdala that manages fear detection these neural changes dull judgment and sparks desire, which can result in spontaneous binges on food, among other things.
When you stay on a healthy sleep schedule the brain is able to filter stimuli from the senses to separate what matters and what doesn’t to avoid a sensory overload.
If the brain is bombarded after not having time to rest it can’t filter information, and caught in the cross-fire of the sense it may imagine things that aren’t there.
- Brain Damage
As if all these other things didn’t do enough damage, skipping your bed-time also kills brain cells, especially the brain stem.
This damage can actually be irreversible, so trying to skip sleep through the week and binge on it over your days off is not really doing you any good. Consistent full sleep is the only solution.
Looking at all these side-effects of losing sleep, it’s probably safe to say that your brain on ‘no sleep’ is a lot like your brain on drugs. It doesn’t communicate well with itself or others, it gets lost in hallucinations, misinterprets life through its waking moments and inspires hazardous behavior. All things considered for those of us in recovery it is important to note while in stages of development we should always do our best to be well rested and refreshed in order to experience everything we can with a clear and inspired perspective.
Drugs and alcohol aren’t the only thing damaging our lives. Our bad habits and unhealthy actions do plenty of damage on their own. In early recovery especially we have to recognize these shortcomings along with others and do our best to change them, and we can learn a lot just by making a commitment to change.
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