sleepy owls

Counting Sheep? How Sleep Deprivation Affects your Brain

If you’re constantly tossing or turning, or just plain don’t like to sleep, you may be affecting your brain in more ways than one.

Depriving your body of sleep can have a number of consequences that can affect you during waking hours — not just the time you spent with your head against a pillow.

Getting less than six hours of shut eye in a single evening can affect your mood, while longer periods of poor sleep can yield permanent damage to the way your brain processes information. These are just a few of the ways that a lack of sleep can have a negative impact on your mind and body. Here’s a quick rundown on how sleep deprivation can affect your brain:

Sleep Deprivation Infographic

One Night of Poor Sleep or Less Than Six Hours

  • When sleep deprivation occurs, the speed at which your brain processes information slows down, causing you to have a tough time with simple decision making and problem solving.
  • You have less-efficient filtering, meaning you have trouble identifying important information from the useless information.
  • Levels of serotonin, which are associated with depression, may also spike when you miss out on a good night’s sleep. This would explain why you might feel slightly depressed when you are fatigued.

Several Nights of Poor Sleep

  • Your body goes through hormonal disruptions during sleep deprivation. According to a study from Stanford University, hormones that regulate your hunger jump by 15 percent, which can possibly add a 2.2 pound per week weight increase.
  • Lowers your hormone that regulates energy, which can explain why you might feel constantly groggy.
  • Sort memories may become difficult. All the information you take in gets absorbed, but your brain struggles to put that information to good use.

Weeks of Poor Sleep

  • During sleep, brain neurons and cells also rest. If these cells and neurons are constantly active, they may begin to die off or get clogged with proteins that would have been cleared away with sleep, which can result in permanent problems related to attention and information processing.
  • An overactive motor cortex may develop. While this may sound efficient, it’s not. Your brain is actually working overtime and will eventually wear itself out, meaning you have trouble handling simple tasks and making rational decisions.
  • Genetic changes can occur. According to a recent study, those who continually slept less than five hours a night were at twice the risk for depression. This is because certain genes that relate to depression may become activated during loss of sleep.

Ditch Insomnia and Get Some Better Sleep, Tonight.

Here are some helpful tips to catchup on your zzzzz …

  • Stick to a schedule: Try and go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This can help your body get into a healthy sleep pattern.
  • Stay active: Routine exercise can help promote better sleep.
  • Limit napping: Taking extended daytime naps can interfere with your nighttime sleep. Limit naps during the early afternoon and make them less than 30 minutes if you still choose to nap.
  • Watch what you eat and drink: Try and avoid going to bed too full or hungry. The discomfort can keep you tossing and turning. Also, avoid caffeine and alcohol. The effects of caffeine can take hours to wear off. And while alcohol may make you sleepy at first, it can disrupt your sleep later.
  • Make sure you’re comfy: Nothing is worse than sleeping in a hot room, or with distracting lights. Aim for a cool, dark, and quiet environment.

If you would like to learn more about chronic sleep deprivation, as well as other developments in the field, visit the UPMC Department of Neurological Surgery or call 1-877-986-9862.