How Sleep Affects Your Brain

How Sleep Affects Your Brain

In today’s fast paced world, there never seems to be enough hours in the day for all you have to do AND sleep. But not getting enough sleep can seriously impact your health. Sleep experts say that you need seven to eight hours of sleep at night to maintain your health.

Studies have shown that lack of sleep affects your memory and your ability to work through complicated problems. It can also affect your mood and lead to anger issues, depression and negatively impact your personal and work relationships. Your body needs the downtime to repair and restore itself so sleep is just as important as proper nutrition and regular exercise.

Here is what happens to your brain when you are not getting enough sleep:

Your thought processes slow down

Do you get that foggy feeling a lot? It might be because of lack of sleep. When you are sleep deprived, your thought processes slow down, making it hard to concentrate. When you are tired, you are also more susceptible to poor decisions and bad judgment which could lead to risky behaviors. Sometimes when you are so sleep deprived you might not be able to recognize the signs of sleep deprivation so if you find yourself engaging in riskier behaviors then you normally would, then you should take a step back and reevaluate your sleep schedule.

It is not just your concentration that is impaired though. Sleep deprivation can also affect your memory, and your ability to learn. Not enough sleep has been proven to especially lead to poor school performance in children and teens.

It affects your brain’s ability to do its job

While it seems like your whole body shuts down while you are sleeping, your brain is still working throughout the night. This is the time that your brain consolidates long-term memory by going through all your daily neural connections and deciding what to keep and what to let go of.

Studies have shown that you remember what you have learned better after a good night’s sleep. Think about when you were in school and how you always did better on tests after a full night of rest. If you are starting a new job and learning new skills, getting enough sleep can help you solidify what you are learning during the day.

Another important job your brain does while you are sleeping is to clear out toxins. Buildup of these toxins has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease. A popular area of research in the last few years on the lymphatic system of the brain and its important role during sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, you are limiting the amount of toxin that your brain can clear out.

It affects your ability to multitask

Multi-tasking is a higher level cognitive function that can be influenced by lack of sleep as well. When you are running on empty, there is not enough energy to devote to multitasking. We all have to multitask throughout our day both at work and at home and can’t afford to have our ability to perform daily tasks impacted.

Sleep is necessary for creativity too

Your ability to be creative and to think outside the box is also closely tied to your sleep. Without enough sleep, you tend to struggle more with thinking in new and imaginative ways. Interesting enough, your ability to do well on standardized tests is not as adversely affected. Did ever wonder why sometimes you have your biggest inspiration when you are first waking up from a sound sleep?

You could be putting yourself in physical danger

When you are less alert and easily confused, not only is it difficult for you to do your job accurately, you put yourself in danger of getting in an accident on the road. A slower reaction time is a big factor in accidents both on the road and at work. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 20% of all crashes are caused by drowsy drivers. Even if you don’t actually nod off at the wheel, your slower reaction time and reduced alertness can put you and those around you in danger.

Keep in mind that trying to catch up on sleep on the weekends won’t work. You need the consistent sleep each night. And if you are only getting five or six hours a night, there is no way to make up all the sleep deficit. Too many people see sleep as a luxury and that is a badge of honor to be excelling without a lot of sleep. This is a dangerous way to look at sleep. Even if you feel like you are able to function fine on little sleep, it will all catch up on you eventually. It is important to nip it in the bud now.

If you are suffering from more than a lack of time though and you physically can’t get more sleep even when you try, then you should see your physician. Sleep problems like snoring, sleep apnea, insomnia and restless legs syndrome can also contribute to sleep deprivation. Rule out any physical causes first.

If there are no health problems triggering your insomnia, then you should look at your bedtime habits for clues to your sleeplessness. Is your bedroom conducive to sleep? Do you have a comfortable mattress? Do you keep electronics out of the room?

You need to set up a little personal haven for yourself in your bedroom. Mattresses are only really good for 10 years so if yours is older, it might be time for a new one. Try out different ones until you find the one that feels the most comfortable. Also keep clutter and work out of the bedroom. Your bed should only be for sleep. When you can’t fall asleep right away, go do something else for a while like read a book or watch a little television and then come back to the bed when you are actually feeling sleepy. Also, consider your nightly routine leading up to bedtime. Try to start unwinding at least an hour or two before you actually head to bed and stay away from caffeine. Sleep is too important to not take seriously.

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