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How Does Insomnia Affect The Brain

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What Can Happen To Your Brain If You Dont Get Enough Sleep

Long Term Effects of Insomnia on Health

Failure to get good quality sleep doesnt just result in fatigue or exhaustion, it can also play havoc with your brain, leading to an array of potential problems, some worse than others. When you are sleep deprived, the neurons in your brain wont work as efficiently in encoding information and translating it into the right course of action, leading to problems with visual perception as well as mental lapses and memory loss.

Indeed, one study, published in Nature in 2017, found that lack of sleep had the same effect on the brain as drinking too much alcohol, slowing down response times and making you feel sluggish.

Another common issue associated with insomnia is the increase it provokes in the stress hormone cortisol. As it rises, cortisol suppresses melatonin, preventing adequate sleep and leading to mood swings, anxiety and, possibly, behavioral issues.

As Dr Abhinav Singh explained, the ramifications of a lack of sleep can also shape the way you manage your daily life. “Poor sleep can affect your cognitive abilities throughout the following day, resulting in poor attention to detail and errors at work and even relationship discord.”

However, that’s not all. Fatigue caused by a period of unsatisfactory sleep can even lead to what Dr Singh called “appetite dysregulation”, which makes you feel hungrier and possibly prone to weight gain. Lastly, a lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can also lead to a greater risk of infections and a weaker response to immunizations.

The Impact Of Sleep Deprivation On Learning And Performance

Another area that researchers study is the impact that a lack of adequate sleep has on learning and memory. When we are sleep deprived, our focus, attention, and vigilance drift, making it more difficult to receive information. Without adequate sleep and rest, over-worked neurons can no longer function to coordinate information properly, and we lose our ability to access previously learned information. In addition, our interpretation of events may be affected. We lose our ability to make sound decisions because we can no longer accurately assess the situation, plan accordingly, and choose the correct behavior. Judgment becomes impaired. Being chronically tired to the point of fatigue or exhaustion means that we are less likely to perform well. Neurons do not fire optimally, muscles are not rested, and the bodys organ systems are not synchronized. Lapses in focus from sleep deprivation can even result in accidents or injury. For more information about how sleep deprivation affects performance, see Sleep, Performance, and Public Safety.Low-quality sleep and sleep deprivation also negatively impact mood, which has consequences for learning. Alterations in mood affect our ability to acquire new information and subsequently to remember that information. Although chronic sleep deprivation affects different individuals in a variety of ways , it is clear that a good nights rest has a strong impact on learning and memory.

How Does Sleep Affect My Brain

    We know that sleep is essential for our bodies to recover from the day’s stresses, but how does it affect our brains? Science has shown that sleep deprivation affects our mood, ability to focus, and memory function in a negative way. Unfortunately, most people arent aware of how important sleep is to brain health and overall well-being.

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    What Insomnia Does To Your Brain And Mental Health

    The sleep time that you never got due to insomnia interferes with your brains functioning, which affects your mood and makes you vulnerable to depression and other mood-related disorders. If you find yourself singing the blues as an accompaniment to your insomnia, it wouldnt be a surprise. Poor mood and irritability are very common side-effects of insomnia.

    Insomnia and your social life

    The bad mood that results from sleep deprivation makes you feel like shutting yourself off from the world. Its no wonder that ones social life is often negatively affected when insomnia hits. All of a sudden, reading social cues becomes harder than usual and can lead to a fair bit of miscommunication. Relationships are often strained when one party suffers from insomnia because the sleep-deprived party becomes much more emotionally volatile and gets upset easily, increasing the risk of arguments and fights. The social stress you experience adds on to your mental burden, resulting in an accumulation of stress and anxiety.

    Insomnia and depression

    Being unable to fall asleep at night exacerbates the negative feelings already bottling up, and this leads to a vicious battering of one’s mental health. In serious cases, this manifests as psychological disorders characterised by the experiencing of hallucinations, paranoia and deteriorating memory. Other chronic mental disorders could develop as well, such as depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder.

    What Happens To The Brain During Sleep

    Insomnia linked to damage in brain communication networks

    During a typical night of sleep, an individual goes through four to six sleep cycles that range from 70 to 120 minutes each. Both the brain and body experience distinct changes during these cycles that correspond to individual stages of sleep.

    During NREM stages, brain activity slows overall, but there remain pulses of specific types of brain waves. This pattern of brain waves is most pronounced in stage 3 NREM sleep, which is also known as slow-wave sleep or deep sleep.

    In contrast, REM sleep is marked by a sizable uptick in brain activity. In many ways, the brains activity during REM sleep is similar to when youre awake. Not surprisingly, REM sleep is known for more vivid and involved dreaming.

    Its normal to cycle through both NREM and REM stages, with REM sleep being more concentrated in the second half of the night. During each part of this process, different chemicals in the brain become activated or deactivated to coordinate rest and recovery.

    Experts still arent exactly certain why sleep proceeds in this pattern, but it is believed that it facilitates mental recovery, which can unlock cognitive benefits related to attention, thinking, and memory.

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    Heart Attack & Stroke

    Sleep deficiency causes a greater instance of fatal cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks and stroke. Doctors and researchers believe this is because the lack of sleep may disrupt the parts of the brain which control the circulatory system or cause inflammation that makes the development of a blood clot more likely.

    Learn About The Different Ways Insomnia Can Impact Your Cognitive Functions

    Sometimes a good nights sleep can be hard to come by. Maybe you had to be up early for work yet stayed up late binge-watching your favorite TV series. Or perhaps you had the opportunity to sleep in but found yourself waking at 5 a.m. despite only getting a few hours of rest. Inadequate sleep happens to the best of us, and though its frustratingand exhaustingthe occasional restless night isnt terribly harmful. However, persistent difficulty falling and staying asleep can have major health consequencesincluding impaired cognitive functions. The clinical term for a chronic pattern of sleep deprivation is insomnia. Here are some of the effects this sleep disorder can have on your brain.1

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    Helps Improve Memory And Learning

    If you want to do well on an upcoming test, you better make sure youre getting enough sleep! Research shows that sleep directly impacts our ability to retain and learn new information . It also improves our mood, problem-solving ability, and overall memory. Getting enough shut-eye gives your brain enough time to build neurological connections, a key factor in both memory and cognition, enhancing your ability to learn and remember when youre awake.

    How To Beat Insomnia And Get Better Sleep

    How Does Sleep Deprivation Affect Your Brain? with Dr. Shane Creado – TBWWP

    Now that you know just how insomnia can affect the body and the mind, its time to talk about ways to beat it and get the best sleep of your life no more excuses! There are many ways to embrace sleep and give insomnia the boot, including how to know when it might be time for a new bed, having a warm cup of herbal tea in the evening, or practicing mindful meditation when you turn in for the night.

    Check out these 10 tips for leaving insomnia behind and getting better sleep from here on out

  • Set a Sleep Schedule: Going to bed and waking up right around the same times every day will help your body and mind to get into the swing of an ideal sleep-wake cycle. Youll be able to fall asleep faster and wake up brighter and more refreshed when youre on a set sleep schedule and we do mean on the weekends too!
  • Catch Up on Sleep ASAP: If you find yourself having to stay up later than usual on a couple of occasions, try and make up for your lost sleep as soon as possible, and do it by turning in earlier the next night, instead of sleeping in later, which could create a vicious cycle of being able to get to sleep the following nights of the week.
  • Pass on the Booze at Bedtime: Yes, alcohol can help you to doze off easier, thanks to it being a sedative, but it also causes sleep disturbances during the night, as well as preventing you from achieving the deep, restorative sleep that you need to be happy and healthy.
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    Sleep Memory And Learning

    Another area that has been the focus of much research is the relationship between sleep and learning or memory formation. Scientists know for sure that sleep is crucial for learning but which stage of sleep is more important?

    Does learning occur in the light REM sleep stage or the deep, non-REM phase of sleep? How do neurons in different brain areas coordinate across sleep stages to facilitate learning and memory consolidation?

    Two studies that Medical News Today reported on help to shed light on these questions.

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    Losing Sleep Can Lead To Brain Damage Scientists Warn

    A sleepless night can cause a lot more than a sluggish day, a new study warns.

    Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience Tuesday claims that chronic sleep loss can lead to a permanent loss of brain cells nullifying any hope to make up for lost sleep.

    Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine studied lab mice while rotating them through periods of rest, short and extended wakefulness similar to the day-to-day sleep patterns of shift workers. After three days of testing, they found that the mice had experienced increased cell death and lost 25 percent of the neurons essential for alertness and optimal cognition a result researchers fear could also happen in humans.

    In general, weve always assumed full recovery of cognition following short- and long-term sleep loss, said Dr. Sigrid Veasey, associate professor of Medicine at UPenn and part of the research team. But some of the research in humans has shown that attention span and several other aspects of cognition may not normalize even with three days of recovery sleep, raising the question of lasting injury in the brain.

    Further research is planned to determine if humans are susceptible to the observed brain damage through extended periods of wakefulness, and if brain damage could be linked to Parkinsons and Alzheimers diseases.

    Left: New research suggests chronic sleep loss can lead to a loss of brain cells. Photo by Flickr user D Sharon Pruitt

    Weight Gain & Obesity

    Mount Sinai Health System: How does insomnia affect the body?

    The effects of continual sleep problems include rapid weight gain. A lack of sleep is related to higher amounts of cortisol, a stress hormone the resulting anxiety, stress and frustration often contribute to emotional eating and poor nutritional habits. Another hormone, called ghrelin, is produced in the stomach and has been associated with sleep long-term deprivation an excess of ghrelin can actually make people feel more hungry.

    Over time, sleep deprivation negatively impacts the bodys metabolism and eating habits. Tiredness often leads to unhealthy cravings and overindulgence, accompanied by a decrease in stamina and physical activity. Research has shown that people who feel unrested are more likely to choose foods that are rich in carbohydrates and sugar.

    Mathematics tells us that a decrease in exercise, combined with an increase in the amount eaten plus an increase in the caloric value of the food ingested, equals weight gain. Obesity is a known risk factor for insomniacs.

    Diagram of the main 10 effects of long-term sleep deprivation on the human mind and body.

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    The Relationship Between Sleep And Mental Health

    Its no secret that sleep plays an important role in good physical and mental health. Sleep deprivation can leave you feeling irritable and exhausted in the short-term, but it can also have serious long-term health consequences as well. Lack of sleep is linked to a number of unfavorable health consequences including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and depression.

    Some psychiatric conditions can cause sleep problems, and sleep disturbances can also exacerbate the symptoms of many mental conditions including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

    Research suggests that the relationship between sleep and mental health is complex. While sleep has long been known to be a consequence of many psychiatric conditions, more recent views suggest that sleep can also play a causal role in both the development and maintenance of different mental health problems.

    In other words, sleep problems can lead to changes in mental health, but mental health conditions can also worsen problems with sleep. Lack of sleep may trigger the onset of certain psychological conditions, although researchers are not completely certain of the underlying reasons for this. Because of this circular relationship between your sleep patterns and your mental state, it is important to talk to your doctor if you are having problems falling or staying asleep.

    Genetics Of Sleep And Insomnia

    Sleep-wake traits, such as sleep duration and timing, are heritable and regulated by numerous genes. Animal and human studies also implicate genetic mechanisms in the etiology of insomnia. Seugnet et al isolated insomnia-like Drosophila flies with rest-activity traits that resemble human insomnia, including decreased rest time, increased latency to a resting state after lights out, greater fragmentation of rest periods, and heightened activity levels. Whole-genome transcript profiling of ins-1 flies identified 755 genes with human homologs that were differentially expressed compared with wild-type flies. Genes found to be conserved in ins-1 flies are associated with sensory perception, metabolism, cell surface signaling, and neuronal activity and may have implications for understanding the genetics of human insomnia.

    Overall, current evidence suggests significant heritability and multigene involvement in the pathophysiology of insomnia. Genes linked to brain functioning, arousal regulation, and sleep-wake processes have been most consistently found to be associated with insomnia. The complex interplay of these genes may account, at least in part, for the heterogeneity observed in insomnia symptoms and consequences. Future genetic studies with detailed assessment of sleep and health history of patients with chronic insomnia disorder may further refine our understanding of genetic factors involved in the development and characteristics of insomnia.

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    How To Help Your Child Get Enough Sleep

    If you think your child isn’t getting enough sleep, the first step is to talk to them about their sleep experience. Ask how long it takes them to fall asleep, how often they wake up in the middle of the night and how long they are awake when they do wake up. Younger children may not be able to accurately answer these questions, so quietly checking on your child or setting up a video monitor in their room may help you determine if any issues are occurring.

    If your child is having trouble falling asleep, try the following tips to help them rest better:

  • Move up bedtime. Set your child’s bedtime earlier to ensure they fall asleep when they should.
  • Establish a routine. Follow a regular bedtime routine such as taking a bath, brushing teeth and then reading for a short period of time. A routine can be calming for children who are anxious about bedtime and can help your child’s body feel prepared for sleep.
  • Avoid screens prior to bedtime. Lights from electronic screens within a couple hours of bedtime can disrupt the brain’s circadian rhythms and contribute to sleep difficulties by tricking the brain into thinking it should still be awake. Bedtime reading should not be done on an electronic screen such as an e-reader.
  • Create a good sleep environment. The right sleep environment can help your child fall asleep and stay asleep. Your child’s bedroom should be:
  • Dark, with only one dim nightlight if necessary
  • Cool, ideally below 74 degrees
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