Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Brain

effects of sleep deprivation on the brainHave you ever gone an extended period of time without sleep?   If so, you’ve undoubtedly experienced the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain.  When your brain is deprived of sleep you may begin to notice all sorts of debilitating effects.  Effects of sleep deprivation may include loss of concentration, lack of focus, imparied memory, increased irritability, and just feeling loopy.   You may very well end up looking and feeling like a zombie, like our frazzled friend in the picture.

Long term sleep deprivation may even be linked to more serious illnesses including psychoses and heart disease.

In today’s post we look at a couple of videos that focus on sleep and brain function, particularly with regards to the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain.

The video above comes from the Vanderbilt news.    At a study conducted at a Vanderbilt hospital one of the patients, Carol Horn, was interviewed about the negative effects of sleep deprivation that she had experienced.   Horn, who worked in a college bookstore, described having to create lists to try to remember what she needed to do during the day because her brain was so fogged over from her lack of sleep.   Carol’s lack of sleep was caused by sleep apnea, a sleeping disorder that can cause interruptions in breathing while sleeping.  Horn, noted that even with the lists she would still forget things.

Sleep researcher Dr. Kimberly Hutchison, from Vanderbilt University medical center, stated that sleep deprivation can cause decrease in motor skills and impairment of mood including irritability and depression.   Hutchison used MRI readouts of patients with chronic sleep deprivation to monitor the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain.  She noted that different areas of the brain attempted to compensate for the areas of the brain that were impaired by lack of sleep.   Hutchison also revealed that performance and reaction time problems were also effects of sleep deprivation.

In Carol Horn’s case she was given an oxygen machine to use while sleeping to get her oxygen intake back to normal and it worked like a charm.

In the video below a reporter who works odd hours charts her own battle with the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain when she decides to go 36 hours without sleeping.


While undergoing the experiment the reporter noted that she felt like a lab rat.    She also stated that during her normal routine she was only averaging 3-4 hours of sleep a night and wondered if it was enough.   A researcher she spoke with at a sleep clinic told her that many folks compensated for lack of sleep by using caffeine products and putting themselves in stimulating environments.  One interesting point he also made was that highly motivated people often went without sleep while in the pursuit of their ambitions.

What have been some well known tragic effects of sleep deprivation?   The reporter cited a Harvard study that pointed to sleep deprivation as possible causes of these tragedies:

  • The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
  • Chernobyl nuclear incident
  • Three Mile Island nuclear incident
  • and the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

Now, if these major tragedies aren’t enough to try to get you to get more sleep, just think about the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain in your own personal life.   Have you experienced any significant sleep problems or disorders that are making your life more difficult?   If so, there are some steps you can take to sleep better.

10 Tips to Better Sleep

1.  Exercise during the day.

2.  Drink plenty of water during the day – but try to avoid liquids for several hours prior to bedtime.

3.  Don’t eat a heavy meal before bedtime.

4.  Get checked for sleep apnea if you don’t feel refreshed after awakening from sleep.

5.  Get some relaxed quiet time in during the day.  Meditate if you can.  Release your stress and worries.

6.  Do what you can to eliminate the stressors in you life.   The more you eliminate the easier it can be to relax and fall asleep.

7.  Take a walk in a beautiful area.

8.  Avoid caffeine prior to bedtime – and longer if you can.

9.  Sleep in a dark room.

10.  Cooler is better – as far as temperature in your bedroom is concerned.  If you can keep the temperature in the mid sixties you should be able to fall asleep faster as some studies have shown.

In summary, the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain are varied and debilitating.  Therefore, do everything you can to get a decent amount of sleep!

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