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How Lack of Sleep Affects the Brain

Sleep is an essential bodily function that everyone needs. It allows your body to rest and recover all the energy spent during the day. Unfortunately, the modern lifestyle has significantly altered the sleep cycle of many people. Most people let their work life spill over to their personal life. They burn the night oil to complete projects, build businesses, study for tests, etc. People have a lot of goals to accomplish and less time to get everything done.

But sleep isn’t something you should compromise on. Lack of sleep can impair cognition, hamper creativity, compromise physical health, and can help lead to serious mental health issues. Here’s a look at how the lack of sleep can affect the brain

  1. Brain Activity is Affected

When a person is well-rested, their brain function works on normal parameters. This means they can think, reason, focus, and solve problems effectively and the brain is ready to tackle the day. However, studies conducted by reputed scientists show that sleep-deprived individuals have less activity in their frontal and parietal lobes. These are the decision making, memory storing, and problem solving centers of your brain. 

If your brain doesn’t get proper rest and time to process all of the information it gets every day, your ability to make decisions, remember things, or find solutions will be fundamentally compromised. You’ll make more mistakes and be less productive over time, especially if the poor sleep cycle continues for a long time.

  1. Impact on Visual Perception

Have you ever been so sleep-deprived that your vision is blurry? Have you been so exhausted that it takes some time for you to recognize something you are seeing or reading? That’s because the lack of sleep can affect your temporal lobe as well. This region of the brain is responsible for recognizing images. It helps you associate a name with a face or a picture with meaning.

When you’re sleep deprived, you have a more difficult time categorizing different images and patterns. This can be detrimental and compromise your ability to perform everyday tasks like driving, reading, or even socializing. Poor visual perception can be quite risky, especially if it affects you for a prolonged period of time. 

For example, you might see someone crossing the road while you’re driving. If you’re well-rested, you will be able to determine if you need to stop or whether the person might safely cross before you reach them. If you aren’t well rested, this will be difficult to gauge and you might miscalculate the distance between your car and the pedestrian, causing an accident.

  1. Communication Between Neurons 

Neurons carry electrical signals and impulses to different areas of your brain and body. In a healthy, well-rested human being, these neurons communicate rapidly and seamlessly. This means you are quick to react, connect the dots, reason, and make decisions.

Quick response from neurons is essential, especially while driving, walking around in a busy city, or in high-risk situations like working with heavy tools, etc. This allows you to identify issues and respond quickly to any risk.

Scientists have found that sleep-deprivation has a significant impact on the neurons’ ability to communicate. They don’t fire as rapidly or communicate as well as they do when a person is well-rested. There’s a distinct lag in thought process and reaction and the lag can be pretty noticeable.

  1. Certain Parts of the Brain Doze

A well-rested brain is firing on all cylinders and is highly capable. The areas of the brain that need to be active while performing a task, are active. This allows you to get the task done efficiently. However, if you’re sleep-deprived and forcing your body to stay awake, certain areas of your brain are actually asleep while you’re awake.

These regions have sluggish brain activity and aren’t responsive enough. This also affects the quality of your sleep because these regions can be hyperactive when you’re trying to sleep. That’s one of the reasons why some people find it difficult to sleep even after not getting proper rest for several days on end.

  1. Poor Sleep Affects the Mood

There are hundreds of studies out there that establish a clear connection between mood and sleep. A well-rested person is less irritable and more patient. That’s because their brain is active and has the ability to remain rational. Poor sleep can make people irritable, frustrated, and stressed out. 

They’re often on a hairpin trigger and will become volatile at the slightest provocation. This is because their brain’s reasoning ability is compromised and their emotions are running unchecked.  The effects of short term sleep deprivation are bad enough, but the effects of long term sleep deprivation are worse.

It’s not uncommon for people to develop depression, anxiety disorders, or mood disorders. This can create a vicious cycle where one feeds the other. Mood disorders can make it difficult for a person to fall asleep and lack of sleep can worsen mood disorders.

People who have good sleep regularly are in positive mood for the majority of their day. They also have better sleep, good appetite, and more energy, which in turn helps them maintain that good mood. The same can’t be said for people who don’t sleep regularly. Deprivation can compromise the quality of their sleep, lower their energy levels, and affect their appetite as well.

  1. Stress Levels Soar 

Stress can take a toll on the quality of your life. It can lead to poor sleep, mood swings, low energy levels, and poor physical health as well. Unfortunately, people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to develop excessive stress and associated disorders. When you experience deep sleep, the brain sends signals to your body to stop producing stress hormones. This helps you feel less anxious and more settled the following day. You are ready to look at a stressful situation from a different perspective and aren’t as likely to spiral again.

If you don’t experience the deep sleep cycle, your body will keep producing the stress hormones. This means you will still feel anxious and overwhelmed the following day. Everything will keep building until your brain isn’t capable of handling excessive stress. That’s why you need to make sure you are well-rested every night.

  1. The Sleep Deficit

Your body needs a specific amount of sleep every day and this isn’t negotiable. It doesn’t matter you have good sleep once or twice a week, it is important for you to rest every day. Lack of sleep creates a deficit that leaves a person fatigued and compromised even if they have a good night’s sleep the following day.

They need to rest more to compensate and clear up the deficit. The accumulated sleep deficit can take a toll on your body and mind. People with inconsistent sleeping habits experience more fatigue, aren’t as focused, and have a poor lifestyle. 

They are more vulnerable to mood swings and don’t have a healthy appetite. They also tend to feel lethargic every day and this doesn’t go away until the deficit is entirely eliminated. You will need to take catch-up naps on the weekends and sleep more on the weekdays to get back to a better state.

  1. Impact of Broken Sleep Cycles

A person always feels rested when they wake up naturally. This is because they wake up at the end of a sleep cycle instead of breaking it before it is complete. A sleep cycle can range between 90 and 120 minutes, and a person goes through different stages of sleep during this period.

A normal full-night’s sleep will include four to five of these cycles and will help you recover from the day’s stress. Sleep can be broken down into four stages: NREM Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, and REM. Here is a detailed look at what these are:

  • Stage 1 is the lightest level of sleep and it is easy to disrupt it.
  • Stage 2 is deeper sleep with your eyes closed and body restive. It is difficult to disrupt this state of sleep.
  • Stage 3 is the most restive stage and has the least amount of brain activity. This stage consists of delta waves or slow waves in the brain. Your body will release Human Growth Hormones during this sleep cycle to help with restoration and repair. 
  • REM sleep is when your brain is active and processing information while you’re not conscious of it. It is easy to wake up during this process and people who wake up while in REM sleep often feel groggy and disorientated.

If any aspect of the sleep cycle (especially deep sleep), is disrupted, it can have an impact on brain function and your ability to focus. That’s why it is important to make sure you sleep well every day. Researchers have found that the effects of lack of sleep are similar to excessive amounts of alcohol. 

That’s why it is important to make sure you get enough sleep. It is also important to ensure you have complete sleep cycles. There are some tools online that help you calculate when you should wake up if you go to bed at a particular time. This can help you mange sleep better and develop a healthy routine.


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