Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Brain

Sleep deprivation is caused by a consistent lack of sleep or a reduced quality of sleep. Most adults require an average of 7 hours of sleep per night. Getting less than 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis can eventually affect the central nervous system including the brain. This can lead to health consequences that affect the entire body.

Your body needs sleep, just as it requires oxygen (air), water, food and life energy. During sleep your body heals and restores itself. Without enough sleep, your brain and body systems won’t function normally.

Your central nervous system is the information highway for your body. Sleep is one of the things necessary to keep it functioning properly. During sleep, pathways form between nerve cells in your brain that help you remember new information that you’ve learned. Sleep deprivation leaves your brain exhausted, so it can’t perform what it’s supposed to as well.

The signals that go to your brain from your body and from your brain to your body may also become delayed, which can lead to decreased coordination, and clumsiness. You may also find it more difficult to concentrate or learn new things.

Sleep deprivation also affects your mental abilities and emotional state. You may overact emotionally. Your decision-making and creativity can also be compromised.

The best way to prevent sleep deprivation is to make sure you get adequate quality sleep. A few recommendations to get back on track with healthy sleep are:

  • Develop a sleep schedule that works best for you, and stick to it. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends.
  • Limit your exercise that is late in the day. Exercise regularly, but avoid exercising 1-3 hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine. The stimulating effects of caffeine in coffee, colas, teas and chocolate can take as long as 8 hours to wear off fully.
  • Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. A large meal less than 2 hours before bedtime can cause indigestion that interferes with sleep. Drinking too many fluids at night can cause you to wake up more frequently to use the washroom.
  • Refrain from using electronic devices or the presence of bright lights right before bed. Bright lights confuse the brain into thinking it’s daytime. Best is to keep lights down low before bed. But the worst is blue light that cell phones emit. There is a correlation between blue light exposure and suppressed levels of melatonin in the body. Melatonin is a hormone responsible for balancing your sleep-wake cycle. When you are low on it, you can experience insomnia, tiredness in the day and irritability.
  • Have the right sunlight exposure. Daylight (during the day) is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes every day.
  • Relax before bed. Take time to unwind. Spend time before bed doing relaxing activities, such as reading, meditating, or listening to music, as part of your bedtime ritual.
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