The Brain on Sleep Deprivation

corina.holiner@medicalcitydallas.com

Why Do We Need Sleep?

Everyone has experienced the physical effects of sleep deprivation. Depending on age and health, operating with little to no sleep can have a greater impact on infants and teenagers, as they require more sleep for their developing bodies, while the elder feel the need to only sleep a handful of hours. For most, sleep deprivation causes sleepiness, lethargy and slow reaction times. Yet, those symptoms are just external symptoms. Lack of sleep can have a greater impact on your well-being.

Physical Impacts of Sleeplessness   Lack of Sleep Causes

Military personnel are specially trained to go days without sleep and still properly operate and make sound decisions. The average human being can only go about 264 hours, or about 11 days, without sleep and begin to feel the effects after just 24 hours. It has been reported that going more than an entire day without sleep is the equivalent of meeting the legal alcohol blood limit. Going beyond those 24 hours can cause a person to experience extreme mood swings, hallucinations and reduced stress threshold.

Even receiving inadequate sleep such as less than seven to eight hours a night for a prolonged period of time can increase a person’s blood pressure, reduce memory and learning capabilities, and decrease motivation and perception.

Sleep’s Effect on Emotions

For decades, scientists tried to understand why the brain, a muscle that never stops working, is impacted from reduced sleep. Early on, scientists began to understand that a lack of sleep negatively impacts emotions, and social functioning. Everyone has experienced the brunt of a grumpy disposition, or feel as if they have not been able to navigate social situations effectively at times. These emotions or lack of positive emotions may be because of the decrease of blood in the brain’s frontal lobe.

All of these physical effects are the outcomes of sleep deprivation, but the question is why does the brain need sleep to specifically continue to function at optimum levels?

The Brain Takes a Hit

Last October, scientists may have just found the answer to that specific question. Published in Science magazine, Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, a faculty member in the neurosurgery department at the University of Rochester Medical Center, believes that sleep allows the brain to scrub itself clean of neurotoxic waste that builds up during the day and its daily functions. These toxins are flushed out of the body through the liver, and without this system the drudge likely builds up and blocks nerve cells from functioning properly.

If a lack of sleep causes the brain to improperly function and impends neurons, then sleep may allow the brain and neurons to repair themselves. Some scientists believe that sleep allows some neurons used only when awake to take “rest” and allows other neurons to “exercise.”

One of the ironies of sleep deprivation is that it can cause a person to perceive themselves as functioning better than they actually are, causing a person to push themselves even further without sleep. Despite this initial false belief, every human functions best when they have had enough sleep and that depends on the person. Don’t forget that adults usually need seven to nine hours of sleep, teens need eight to 10 hours of sleep, children need 10 to 13, and newborns and toddlers need 12 to 18.