Recent research conducted by a UCLA professor and reported by NPR found that brain cells actually slow down when you don’t get enough sleep. Lack of sleep causes the bursts of electrical activity in brain cells to become slower and weaker, which affects the ability of brain cells to communicate.
This helps to explain the mental lapses that occur after a bad night’s sleep. You forget things. You have trouble thinking clearly. You react more slowly to things around you. All these things can affect your mood, performance at work and school, and how you function throughout the day.
As the NPR article points out, drowsy driving is responsible for more than 70,000 accidents each year. That’s not because all those people are falling asleep at the wheel. In many cases, it’s because the driver’s brain isn’t recognizing and processing the activity around them.
This study is one of many that reinforces the fact that sleep is critical to good health. When you don’t get enough sleep, most people assume you can push through it. While you might be able to get through the day – although the people involved in those 70,000 car wrecks might say otherwise – you won’t be at your best.
When you get into deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, your brain and body get to work. During this cycle of sleep, eyes are moving quickly because brain activity increases and dreams occur. Areas of the brain responsible for learning and making or reinforcing memories are stimulated. In fact, research suggests that the brain is almost as active during sleep as when you’re awake.
Sleep gives your body the opportunity to restore and repair what was lost or broken down while you were awake. Muscles grow, tissue is repaired, growth hormones are released, and cells generate new proteins through protein synthesis. If you don’t get enough sleep, you don’t give your body the time it needs to rejuvenate.
While you sleep, the brain processes the information you’ve acquired while awake, reinforcing new memories and flushing out the stuff you don’t need. In addition to improving cognitive function, studies have shown that the brain also flushes out harmful toxins that can cause the buildup of plaque.
Blood pressure tends to drop with a good night’s sleep, which can help you keep blood pressure in a healthy range and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Lack of sleep has been linked to depression, while better sleep can reduce stress, anxiety and impatience. Some researchers believe a lack of sleep causes an imbalance in the hormones that regulate hunger, which can cause you to eat more and gain weight.
Also, keep in mind that a lack of sleep doesn’t affect adults and children in the same way. Adults tend to get sluggish, which can have serious consequences in many different work environments, including healthcare, manufacturing and transportation. On the other hand, a study in the journal Pediatrics found that kids who don’t get enough sleep tend to be hyperactive, inattentive and impulsive. This can lead to serious social, emotional and academic issues.
If you have trouble sleeping, start writing down some information. When do you go to bed and wake up? What do you do before you go to bed? How long does it take you to fall asleep? How often do you wake up at night, and how long does it take you to fall back asleep? How do you feel after a good night’s sleep compared to a bad night’s sleep?
When it comes to sleep, don’t be satisfied with just getting through the day. Wouldn’t you rather enjoy life? Don’t you want to reach your full potential? If you’re not getting enough sleep, talk to your doctor and find out if there are any underlying causes that could be preventing you from getting the rest you need.