What Sleep Deprivation Does to Your Brain

We’ve all had those nights where we can’t seem to fall asleep, despite the fact that we have to wake up early tomorrow.  So, then we struggle through the next day on only a few hours of rest, feeling cranky and sluggish, unable to concentrate at times.  What happens when that “one night” turns into a common habit?  These aftereffects of sleep deprivation aren’t just your body telling you to rest more—they’re from your brain, too!  Because your mind can only handle so much insomnia before it starts to change, little by little.


1. Memory

Contrary to popular belief, your brain doesn’t just “shut off” when you sleep.  In fact, it uses this time to process a lot of the events of the previous day.  Have you ever wondered why you can remember certain moments more clearly?  Well, that’s largely a function of your brain’s decisiveness.  While you’re snoozing, it’s sifting through your most recent memories to help you remember what’s important and forget the things that are less so.


One leading theory speculates that your brain accomplishes this by weakening select synapses or connections throughout the central nervous system to “let go” of unimportant memories. This is known as the “synaptic homeostasis hypothesis” and it enables you to start fresh each day with the ability to create new memories.  If, however, your sleep is interrupted or shortened, then you may lose information your brain would otherwise have kept.  There have also been reports of persistent, unwanted memories resulting from continued sleep deprivation or insomnia.  It’s especially important for young children or teenagers whose minds and memories are still developing to get enough rest and avoid this situation.


2. Health

You might think about maintaining your neurological health in broad terms, but few actually know what to do specifically.  Well, one easy way is to get sufficient sleep.  As a recent study(link to: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24136970) with mice would suggest, your brain uses this time for metabolic cleansing.  During your waking hours, toxins can build up around the brain—some of which have been liked to neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disorder.  When your resting, your central nervous system actually flushes these on its own.


Moreover, if it’s been damaged in any way during the course of the day, it can repair itself during a complete sleep cycle—or a few of them.  It can even fix or generate totally new brain cells, which is essential for continued cognitive function.  Naturally, this slows down as you age, so sleep becomes even more essential. Chronic sleep deprivation and insomnia have been linked to a number of diseases, including anxiety, dementia, addiction, obesity, depression, heart disease, diabetes, and many more.  Over time, it can even disrupt your well-being at the genetic level!  So, be proactive about your health and try to get a solid sleep each night.


3. Creativity

This may seem inconsequential, but it can have a very real impact on your daily life.  After all, trying to function without sufficient sleep is akin to doing everything while legally drunk.  You have impaired motor skills, delayed reaction times, and generally weakened array of cognitive abilities.  Not only are you more likely to have trouble paying attention, but also you could fall into what scientists call “micro-sleep.”  In this phenomenon, you lose consciousness briefly without being aware of it—and it could happen anywhere.  While you’re mid-conversation, while you’re working, or even while you’re driving!


Plus, your creativity takes a serious hit.  So, if you’re working on a project for work or school that requires an innovative approach or complex problem-solving skills, you may be in trouble.  Those who already exhibit hyperactivity or suffer from ADHD may find their symptoms exacerbated by even one night of lost sleep. When the problem becomes chronic, it causes long-term adverse effects on the brain.



Obviously, if it were easy to secure a good night’s sleep, we would all do it. Whether you’re suffering from insomnia, stress, anxiety, or other problems that interfere with your ability to fall asleep, it’s important to prioritize this matter.  Not dealing with your sleep deprivation can cause other problems down the line, and they’re likely to get worse without proper treatment. If you’re concerned about this topic, or any other mental health issue, please contact our team at Focal Points Therapy.  We deal with a wide variety of neurological disorders and we’re always trying to develop new approaches that work for our individual clients.



"My daughter used to come home with at least two Ds on her report card. Now, she is getting all As and Bs, and she's even on the honor roll this semester."

Jane D., Clarksville

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