10 Things that happen when your brain doesn’t sleep
One study found that when people were sleep deprived, the connection between the medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala in the brain was disturbed. This meant that people lacked the ability to regulate their emotions, causing heightened feelings of anger. If you consider that up to 40 per cent of people experience insomnia, this could explain why there are so many angry people on our roads and in our lives. Sleep loss primes us to focus on negative experiences, misinterpret facial expressions and pick fights. This is because of emotional volatility caused by interrupted communication between brain cells as a result of lack of sleep.
2. Lost memories
Ever got that fuzzy feeling when you don’t get enough sleep? Where it feels harder to remember things? Blame the hippocampus, your memory centre. It acts like a record skipping when you don’t get enough sleep. The hippocampus is one of the first parts of the brain to deteriorate in Alzheimer’s patients.
3. False memories
The sleep-starved brain may fail to encode memories successfully in the first place, thanks to altered function in the hippocampus as well as prefrontal cortex and parietal lobe regions, which plays a big role in many brain functions, including focus. One study found that people are more likely to incorporate misinformation into memories of events observed after a night of going without sleep.
4. Cerebral shrinkage
Frequent loss of sleep correlates with cerebral atrophy, specifically a shrinkage of your frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes. That’s not a good thing, as these areas control functions such as movement, judgment, behaviour, speaking and language, knowing right from left, reading, and understanding relationships.
5. Slurred speech
Lack of sleep can cause you to slur your speech, even if you are not drunk. That’s because sleep deprivation affects your temporal lobe, which controls language processing. It’s why you should plan to get enough sleep the night before delivering a big speech.
6. Impaired wit
Sleep loss affects cognitive processes such as divergent thinking, which helps us switch topics nimbly during conversations. Scientists found that activity in the inferior frontal gyrus increases when sleep deprived people tried to list uses for different objects, suggesting the brain draws on divergent thinking to compensate for strained cognitive functioning. So, you lose some of your ability to deftly switch between topics, draw interesting parallels, and all the other things you do when you are being witty.
7. Poor judgment
When you are tired, your judgment is impaired while your desire for whatever you are craving is increased, meaning you will make poor decisions in all areas, including health. One classic example: After a long workday following a night without sleep, you’ll find it much easier to order fast food than to cook a healthy meal. This is because sleep loss corresponds with decreased activity in the frontal lobe, which controls decision-making and more activity in the amygdala, a key player in fear detection. Together, these neural changes create a brain mechanism that dulls judgement and ratchets up desire. And definitely, don’t try to make any sort of money-based decisions when you are tired. The part of your brain that makes big decisions is the prefrontal cortex, which also controls your impulses. Being sleepy is like letting your prefrontal cortex get lazy on you.
You would have to be awake for days to experience visual hallucinations caused by lack of sleep, but a reported 80 per cent of sleep-deprived people have. When you are tired, your brain loses its ability to filter stimuli, meaning you may see something that isn’t really there.
9. Head in the clouds
Have you ever apologised for being “spacey” because you were tired? That’s a common side effect of being sleep deprived. It’s all linked to your visual cortex. If your visual cortex is a boat, losing sleep is like cutting off the rope that ties the boat to the dock, leaving you drifting in the ocean.
10. Brain damage
Pulling one all-nighter is not likely to give you lasting brain damage. But if you make it a regular occurrence, you will to damage your brain stem over the long run. Your brain stem does a lot. It’s like the major roadway that connects information from your body to the major parts of your brain. It’s one part of your body you don’t want to damage.