The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Brain

Sleep is as important to health and well being as diet and exercise. Yet, millions of people report sleep disorders or a general lack of sleep each year. Although not everyone requires the same amount of sleep to feel productive, it’s recommended to receive at least eight hours per night for optimal sleep health. It’s not only the preference or perceived needs of how much sleep a person requires. It’s important to consider how it affects brain function as well. 

The effects of sleep deprivation on the brain can lead to an inability to focus or create a lag in response time. It can also cause mood swings and result in poor cognitive function. From a medical standpoint, sleep is a necessary function designed to rid the brain of built up wastes through the glymphatic system. This disposal process includes getting rid of proteins from the central nervous system that form plaque around the brain and can lead to neurodegenerative disorders. 

In simpler terms, sleep “clears out the daily clutter” of the brain and promotes increased productivity, memory, and performance. Although you’re in a resting state, sleep is actually an active process of restoration for the brain and body. The effects of sleep deprivation on the brain puts you at greater risk health-wise. It impacts your cardiovascular, respiratory, and immune systems in various ways. There are also specific instances where sleep loss puts you in danger, such as:

  • A delay in response time due to limited amounts of sleep can lead to impaired driving. It’s risky being on the road for both you and fellow drivers when you’re fatigued. Dozing off for even a second can lead to an accident. 
  • Mood swings caused by lack of sleep can lead to problems with communication. It creates higher levels of agitation and frustration that affects both your personal and professional relationships. When you aren’t receiving quality sleep, it’s difficult to maintain a clear head and calm disposition. 
  • Eventually, sleep deprivation often results in anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges as well. Due to the cyclical their cyclical link, once you find a healthier sleep-wake cycle you can reduce the level of anxiety or depressed feelings you have. 

The number and intensity of sleep deprivation effects on brain activity can occur by losing a large quantity of sleep once in a while or it can be a comprehensive buildup of inconsistent sleeping patterns. Either way, poor sleep is hard on the body and has a lasting negative impact on the brain, leading to long-term sleep disorders and other sleep-related health conditions. 

Are You Sleep Deprived?

What is a normal sleeping pattern? Being sleep deprived is more common than you might think. The recommended amount of sleep is seven to eight hours every night. If you don’t receive this amount on a regular basis or the sleep you’re receiving is constantly interrupted, it’s easy to suffer from sleep deprivation. As a way to measure your quality of sleep, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • How much deep sleep do I get per night? 
  • How long does it take me to fall asleep? 
  • Do I wake up frequently? 
  • How would I rate the quality of my sleep from 1-10? 

Although you may technically be lying down for eight hours, you may not complete the full cycle by reaching deep REM sleep. This could be due to disturbances like snoring, uncomfortable sleeping positions, or the temperature of your room, all which keep you awake on some level. The result is waking up feeling less than refreshed and sleep deprived.

However, with advancements available today, there are ways to track how much you sleep and the quality of sleep you get. The Eight Sleep Pod smart technology, specifically, measures statistics, such as heart rate and sleeping temperature, and generates a personalized report that shows your sleep patterns and can help find the optimal sleeping temperature for your body. 

As your body temperature dips and rises while sleeping, the Pod sensors regulate the temperature of your bed to prevent disruptions as you sleep and keep you comfortable. When your body temperature is too warm, it causes you to stir and eventually wake up, making it difficult to fall back asleep. The automatic adjustments adapt to what’s needed at different phases of your sleep cycle so you’re always at a temperature that’s just right.

By having data available that tracks your own sleep patterns, you’ll see if you’re truly getting as much sleep as you think you are. Plus, the analysis serves as a guide to help you create a plan to improve your sleep habits.

How to Prevent Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation can be caused by how long it takes you to fall asleep or how often you wake up during the night. If it takes you longer than 15 minutes to nod off, try ways to calm the mind before you go to bed. Meditation is one helpful tool that focuses on slowly down your breathing while clearing the mind. 

The effects of sleep deprivation on the brain and the anxiety created from a fast-paced, digital life can keep us awake for far longer than we’d like. Intentionally slowing down these thoughts and bringing the attention to one central, positive area can help you fall asleep faster at night. Alternatively, if you wake up frequently throughout the night, see if you can pinpoint the cause. 

Is it because you’re too warm? Do you suffer from sleep apnea? Is it because of something you’ve eaten or drank before bed? Once you identify what it is that’s causing you to wake up multiple times, you can start to eliminate the disruptions one by one. Other key areas to prevent sleep deprivation are starting an exercise regimen, limiting sleep distractions, and reaching consistency in your sleep schedule.

Implement an Exercise Regimen

A workout early in the evening can help the body unwind in several ways. First, it gets you in the healthy habit of following a routine of being physically active. Second, it allows you to cycle through the body warming up and then cooling down to an optimal temperature  just in time for bed. Third, exercise helps to alleviate stress, which also has a positive effect on how well you sleep.

Limit Distractions Where Possible for Better Sleep

Life happens and changes can bring on varying amounts of stress that prevent how much sleep you get. Limit unhealthy stressors from your day-to-day as much as possible. Practice meditation or take a bubble bath to relax and quiet the mind. Reduce the amount of time you use electronics at least an hour before bed. The brain needs time to transition from being in an awake and active state to asleep and restorative. Create a gentler switch by winding down with low-key activities.

Aim for Consistency 

Find consistency in your sleep patterns by incorporating healthy sleep habits. Certain things may curb the ability to do this every night, but aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time. Creating a good flow of your natural circadian rhythm will allow the body to respond favorably. This may include small adjustments at first; going to bed 30 minutes earlier or adding a 30-minute nap during the day. Whatever grants you ample sleep on an ongoing basis will allow your body to rejuvenate more fully. 

Establishing Healthy Sleep Habits

The need for sleep changes as we get older. As babies and into our teenage years, sleep is vital for healthy stimulation and growth. There are frequent naps and longer periods of sleep that occur. Once we enter the adult phase of our life, the need for sleep declines, but can be neglected if not careful. 

Establishing a regular sleep pattern makes a difference to our mental and physical health. From the time we wake up in the morning to the time we get ready for bed at night, there are things that can be done to promote a better night’s sleep and can help with how to keep a consistent sleep schedule.

Determine which times work best for our own needs and preferences. Going to bed earlier doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll receive better sleep. The opposite may be true if you’re lying in bed wide awake. It’s better to go to bed when you’re feeling tired rather than having your alertness keeping you awake.

Know what steps it takes to get your brain in the “mood” of going to sleep by following through the same motions every night. Set aside time to take a warm bath or shower, brush your teeth, and other nighttime rituals that signal your brain that it’s nearly time to go to bed. Dim the lights in your bedroom, adjust the temperature to a cooler setting, and engage in quieter activities in the hours leading up to sleep.

There are several ways to help prevent sleep deprivation and you don’t necessarily need to incorporate them all. As you start to make changes to how and when you sleep, see if you notice the difference in your daily functioning, focus, and engagement. Give your body a chance to experience true “sleep mode” as often as possible. The power of getting plenty of rest can make a dramatic difference in your life with regards to how you feel physically and mentally.


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