Sleep-Deprived? Here's How It Actually Impacts Your Brain + What To Do About It
Getting a rough night's sleep impacts everything from our mood to our energy levels—and according to recent research published in the journal eLife, it impacts how well our brains function, too. Here's what the study found, plus what to do about it.
What actually happens in the brain when you're sleep-deprived, according to research.
It's no secret that sleep deprivation has a negative impact on the brain, but why? That's what this research wanted to find out, and to do so, the study authors observed the brain activity and neural connections of participants who had experienced overnight sleep deprivation versus those who'd had a sufficient night's sleep.
Based on their observations, not only is brain activation affected by sleep deprivation, but neural connections are affected as well—and not for the better, as you might imagine. Further, both of those brain functions play a big role in cognition and memory.
For instance, when we sleep, fresh memories from the previous day are stored via strengthened neural connections. (This is known as neuroplasticity.) So essentially, inadequate sleep equals fewer and/or weaker encoded memories.
As the study authors write, "Our data indicate that upscaled brain excitability and altered plasticity, due to sleep deprivation, are associated with impaired cognitive performance," adding that sleep hygiene could play a role in both disease prevention and improved cognition.
What to do about it.
While sleep deprivation spells bad news for our brains, the good news is, a little sleep hygiene can go a long way.
The study authors actually point out that working in accordance with your sleep chronotype can improve work performance. (Here's our guide to chronotypes if you're new to the concept.)
And beyond that, some good rules of thumb when it comes to sleep hygiene include going to bed and waking up at the same times every day (ideally based on your chronotype), giving yourself plenty of time to unwind before bed, and getting natural light first thing in the morning to keep your circadian rhythm aligned.
It might also be worthwhile to invest in a reputable sleep supplement for a little extra help, namely one that includes ingredients that are research-backed to improve sleep quality, such as magnesium bisglycinate and PharmaGABA®.
When it comes to cognitive performance and memory, getting enough quality sleep is absolutely essential. So whether you want improved cognition, better memory, or to simply feel more energized, this research is one more good reason to catch those zzz's.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.