5 Ways Not Getting Enough Sleep Completely Messes With Your Brain

March 20, 2016

5 Ways Not Getting Enough Sleep Completely Messes With Your Brain

It does way more than make you tired | Mckenzie Terry - March 17, 2016

Getting your beauty sleep is super important, but with the pressures of school, getting into college, having a social life, extracurricular activities, and spending time with your family — among countless other things — sleep often takes a back seat. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that teenagers should get 9.25 hours of sleep every night, but only 15% report getting over 8.5 hours of sleep a night — meaning 85% of America’s teenagers aren’t getting enough shuteye. To help get a better understanding of the dangers of sleep deprivation, Teen Vogue spoke with Dr. Larry Altshuler, a long-time advocate for a better night’s rest and author of Doctor, Say What, a book containing medical wisdom from his 36 years as an integrative medicine specialist. With Dr. Altshuler’s help, we’ll explore some of the negative impacts of sleep deprivation and give you some tools to break your bad sleep habits once and for all.

Studying and doing your homework can get harder

Studying is a necessary part of life, but it doesn’t matter how many all nighters you pull if your memory is completely shot. Dr. Altshuler tells us there are three memory types: acquisition, learning or experiencing something new; consolidation, how the memory gets stored in the brain; and recall, having the ability to access that memory in the future. “Both acquisition and recall are functions that take place when you are awake,” says Dr. Altshuler. “Without adequate sleep, your brain has a harder time absorbing and recalling new information. In addition, sleep is required for consolidation of a memory, no matter the memory type.”

But it’s not just studying that can be affected. Dr. Altshuler says, “sleep deprivation affects alertness, ability to concentrate, learning, creativity, and overall performance, thus affecting the ability to produce appropriate homework.”

Fix it:

Take a nap. Winston Churchill once said “nature has not intended mankind to work from 8 in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts 20 minutes, is sufficient to renew all vital forces.” Dr. Altshuler agrees, “studies involving memory tests show that after a single night of sleep, or even a nap, people perform better, whether on a test, in the office, on the athletic field, or in a concert hall.”

But try not to sleep for too long. “Napping should not be longer than 30 min-1 hour, since there is a greater tendency to go into deep sleep,” says Dr. Altshuler. “It is the non-REM deep sleep cycle that is hard to wake up from and makes you feel drugged if you wake up in the middle of it. That cycle occurs more commonly during the first half of [a longer period of] sleep.”

Your emotional and physical health can suffer

“Sleep deprivation increases stress levels,” says Dr. Altshuler. “When stressed, our bodies produce substances such as cortisol, catecholamines, and neuropeptides that can aid in getting things accomplished on a short-term basis without harmful effect. However, long-term, or repetitive production of such substances can adversely affect the immune system and predispose to more illnesses, such as colds/flu and allergies, rashes, etc.” He also says that those who experience sleep deprivation are more likely to experience negative behaviors, and that this paired with the added increase in stress levels, can cause anxiety and depression. Plus, it causes a lot of problems for your skin.

Fix it:

Stop sleeping in on the weekends. Teenagers need about 8-10 hours of sleep every night, but biological sleep patterns change during adolescence, which might make it harder to fall asleep before 11 p.m. Dr. Altshuler says most teenagers “may not get enough sleep when they go to bed late and wake up early for school.” To combat this, he suggests sticking to a consistent sleep schedule. A study done by the Sleep Foundation says “adolescents who go to bed earlier on non-school nights than on school nights are more likely to get insufficient sleep on school nights and to have a poor sleep profile.”

You will be hungry more often

“Sleep deprivation influences two hormones that affect appetite; it suppresses leptin (which inhibits appetite) and stimulates ghrelin (which increases hunger),” says De. Altshuler. “When you don't get enough sleep, you end up with too little leptin in your body, which, through a series of steps, makes your brain think you don't have enough energy for your needs. So your brain tells you you're hungry. It also increases ghrelin, the ‘hunger hormone’. The end result is your body tells you to eat more.”

Lack of sleep is also associated with overeating because it can produce higher peaks of a lipid in our bloodstream called endocannabinoid, which makes eating more pleasurable.

Fix it:

If you're hungry, then you should eat, but if you're eating more food than usual, take the opportunity to put something good in your body. And the next step is exercise. Getting more exercise is pretty much the catchall prescription for better health. But it may also contribute to a better night’s rest. Dr. Altshuler says, “One study showed that teenage athletes had better sleep patterns and were more alert during the day than their peers who exercised significantly less, even if they slept the same amount.”

You could fall asleep at the wheel

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsiness or falling asleep at the wheel contribute to an average of more than 80,000 car crashes every year. Dr. Altshuler says that this is because sleep deprivation “decreases concentration and alertness, physical reflexes, fine motor skills, and judgment, all of which are critical in driving.” It’s also much harder to gauge if your judgment is impaired when you’re sleep deprived. Dr. Altshuler says “one study showed that participants who were sleep deprived were more likely to think they were right when they were, in fact, wrong.”

Fix It:

Don’t drive if you can barely keep your eyes open. If you are already driving, and you're seriously sleep-deprived, even if you drink coffee, you still may have “micro sleeps” or brief losses of consciousness that can last for four or five seconds. If you get sleepy on the road, you can drink 1-2 cups of coffee and pull over for a short 20-minute nap in a safe place (like a lighted designated rest stop). This can only help temporarily, and the best thing to do is to pull over and get a good night's sleep before getting on the road again.

You’re probably acquiring more sleep debt

Sleep debt is the difference between how much sleep you should be getting, and how much sleep you actually get. You accumulate more ‘debt’ every time you lose sleep and, unfortunately, you can’t just tack on a few hours over the weekend to make up for it. While Dr. Altshuler suggests that if you usually get enough sleep, but accidentally stay up too late Wednesday night, you can catch up by going to bed a few hours earlier on Thursday night. “However,” says Dr. Altshuler, “losing sleep for several nights takes extra time.” If you get too far into debt, you could face major long-term health issues like obesity, insulin resistance, and heart disease.

Fix it:

Go to bed earlier or wake up later for an extended period of time. “Sleep debt can be repaid — though it won't happen in one extended snooze marathon,” says Dr. Altshuler. “Tacking on an extra hour or two of sleep a night over several nights or a week or so is the way to catch up.”

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