It’s that time of year when many of us are burning the candle at both ends. Sleep deprivation can become something we don’t even realize that we are doing to ourselves. With work, school, parenting and all of the busyness of the holidays you may be feeling exhausted yet still find yourself fighting the urge to sleep. Or the time change, darker days and all there is to do might make you feel like going to bed directly after dinner to catch a few more hours of sleep. You just might want to heed that impulse instead of staying up to play on social media, write one more email or watch one more show because sleep deprivation can do serious harm to both body and mind.
The National Institute of Health reports that the average American adult sleeps less than 7 hours each night. However 8 to 10 hours is the recommendation for optimum function and while those few missed hours might not seem like much, they really add up. Lack of sleep really messes with the mind.
The hippocampus is a moon shaped structure in the frontal lobe. This is the area used when the waking mind encodes or learns new information. Later, while sleeping, this same area “replays” that information to help it stick with us. If you are skipping out on sleep, you are putting your ability to form long-term memories at risk. Scientists are also finding that sleep starved brains are more prone to incorporate false information into memories.
Well rested folks also have highly active temporal lobes, the region of the brain responsible for language processing. Slurring and difficulty enunciating words is a hallmark of sleep deprivation. Wit is also affected as sleep deprivation impacts divergent thinking, necessary for us to switch topics and make connections between thoughts and ideas.
Sleep deprivation also causes a decrease in the neurotransmitters responsible for mood regulation and amplifies anticipatory reactions fueling the fire for depression and/or anxiety to set in. Not getting enough sleep also makes us grouches. In a well rested brain, the amygdala which is responsible for emotional processing and the medial prefrontal cortex responsible for regulating feelings are connected and working in unison. When we don’t get enough sleep, that connection is weakened and we are more prone to angry outbursts.
In addition, sleep deprivation is also connected with reduced immunity, frequent colds and infections, weight gain, increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and impaired motor skills increasing risk of accidents. So listen to your body when it tells you that 8pm is a perfectly reasonable time to go to bed even when the lure of screen time calls. Unplug, unwind and get those extra zzz’s your body craves!