Only about 30% of Americans actually get the prescribed 6 to 8 hours of sleep a night. That leaves roughly 70% of Americans suffering from sleep deprivation, a public health epidemic according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lack of proper sleep clearly effects your body, resulting in bloodshot eyes, increased blood pressure, fuller waistline, sore muscles, and unsynchronized body organ systems. Lack of sleep also effects your brain and how you function, causing reduced ability to learn and remember new information, and less focus, attention, and vigilance in daily tasks. Your ability to interpret events is affected causing an inability to make sound decisions. Your neurons do not fire optimally as they ought to which causes impaired judgement and impacts mood. Now this may sound like symptoms caused after months of poor sleep, but that is not the case, these symptoms begin to occur after just one night of restlessness.
After just one night of less than 6 hours of solid sleep, your cognitive throughput - the amount of time it takes your mind to process information - is slowed considerably after just one night with less sleep than you ought to get. Getting too little sleep is like throwing a cog in the wheel of a great big machine, or like sending a train down the longest track you could instead of using the short connection. Your neural pathways are disrupted, creating friction in the shortest path of travel. This results in your working memory, which takes care of the daily decision making and problem solving, struggling to perform making even simple decisions difficult. Less sleep after one night makes regular daily tasks twice as hard, such as figuring out what to wear or remembering basic information. Additionally, research from the University of California, San Diego has been linked with less-efficient filtering. This means your brain has a harder time sorting whats important or relevant from everything your mind absorbs overall. Evidence has also linked less sleep with spikes in brain chemicals like serotonin, found in patients with depression, which explains why you feel down emotionally and worn out when you’ve not slept well.
On top of those symptoms mentioned above, after several nights of poor sleep or one night of no sleep, you experience hormonal disruptions. Your body’s ghrelin level jumps nearly 15 percent according to a study from Standord University. Ghrelin in the chemical which induces feelings of hunger, which explains feeling the need to eat more when you haven’t slept. Some researchers have recorded as much as “a 2.2-pound weight gain in a single week among people who were sleeping poorly (Namni Goel Ph.D.).” The same study found reduced levels of leptin, the hormone which regulates energy sensation, which makes you feel sluggish. While you may still be able to learn new information on less sleep, your mind will have difficulty accessing that information and making good use of it. Research published in the Neuroscience journal states that your brain struggles to curate and sort new memories.
In addition to those symptoms, after a full week of poor sleep or several nights without proper rest, your brains neurons and cells start to suffer. Those cells rest during sleep periods as well, and in someone who sleeps less than four hours for five nights or more (loosely the definition of an insomniac) those cells never get adequate rest. Some of those cells die off without proper rest while others become “clogged with proteins that sleep would normally have cleared away” leading to long-term effects such as irreversible brain damage and problems with attention and information processing, according to a study from the University of Pennsylvania. Another study from Johns Hopkins University shows an increase in activity in the motor cortex and several other brain regions which may seem like a good sign, however in actuality this is like a computer processor working overtime meaning your mind is not working efficiently. Your mind is overreacting to every piece of information and wearing itself down, making your worse and worse at handling simple tasks and responding with appropriate reactions. Another study at the University of Washington studied 1700 twins and found that those whom slept less than five hours a night were at twice the risk of depression.
It comes about to show that sleep is vital to survival and prevents the breakdown of the nervous system and body. Numerous studies clearly show the negative effects poor sleep has on concentration, coordination, memory, and mood amongst other things. Furthermore, recent studies are connecting brain cells’ functionality with chemicals made in the brain, and showing how those in conjunction effect the person as a whole. Prolonged sleep disorders can result in psychiatric and neurological disorders causing yet further difficulties in your life. Future studies look to employ advanced molecular, cellular, and brain imaging technologies to explore the activity of different brain regions during sleep and hope to reveal how certain events and disorders alter sleep states. While sleep deprivation continues to plague majority of the country and millions of people worldwide, these studies hope to find deeper understanding of the relationships between sleep and various diseases, and possible new treatments for sleep disorders.