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Exploring Connections Between Poor Sleep and Brain Health


If you have difficulty sleeping, you're not alone. A third of adults in the US report not getting enough rest every day, and 50 to 70 million Americans have chronic sleep disorders. Sleep deficiency can mean not getting enough sleep, sleeping at the wrong time of day, or not getting good quality sleep.

Related Blog: Is Hitting the Snooze Good or Bad?

While you are likely aware of how lack of sleep makes you feel, you may not realize that poor sleep can actually have short-term and long-term effects on your brain. Let’s take a closer look at what these effects are.

How Poor Sleep Affects Your Brain

During the hours you sleep, you cycle through different stages of non-REM and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. These stages mark the changes in your body from wakefulness to sleep, and your brain and body react differently during each stage. Shorter sleeping periods or frequent waking during the night can interrupt these vital stages, limiting how refreshed you feel upon waking.

Failure to adequately cycle through the natural sleep cycles can also affect your brain. During sleep, certain hormones rise and fall, and toxins are removed from the brain. Lack of sleep interrupts this process, leading to increased cortisol and an accumulation of metabolic waste. These changes substantially impact your cognitive and emotional thought processes.

Short-Term Effects of Poor Sleep on the Brain

According to Yale Medicine, even a single night of poor sleep can impact how your brain works. Sleep-deprived people take longer to make decisions, make incorrect decisions, and suffer from irritability. Sleep loss occurring for a few days or weeks can cause these symptoms. 

  • Drowsiness and a tendency to doze off unintentionally
  • Increased stress
  • Forgetfulness
  • Slow reaction time
  • Increased irritability, anxiety, and difficulty managing emotions

Long-Term Effects of Poor Sleep on the Brain

Lack of sleep over longer periods of time can have a lasting effect on your brain. When you get quality sleep each night, your brain takes care of routine functions, like hormone regulation and removal of metabolic waste. Prolonged periods of poor sleep cause these "housekeeping" activities to add up, causing long-term issues in the brain. Sleep deprivation over a long period of time has been linked to these conditions. 

  • Alzheimer's Disease: During the day, the brain produces proteins and other substances responsible for keeping you healthy. When you sleep, brain cells shrink and allow excessive amounts of these substances to be flushed away. Beta-amyloid, the protein that clusters together to form Alzheimer's plaques, is flushed away while you sleep. Lack of sleep allows these dangerous proteins to build up and form plaques that disrupt brain function.
  • Depression and Anxiety: Melatonin is the hormone that regulates both sleep cycles and emotions. Lower levels of this hormone are found in people experiencing depression and those with insomnia. Lack of sleep is also related to higher amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, resulting in increased anxiety. 

Will Improving Sleep Quality Improve Cognition?

Luckily, changing your sleep habits can reverse the effects of poor sleep on the brain. While there are some immediate effects of poor sleep, many of the effects are cumulative. By addressing the reasons you have difficulty sleeping, you can avoid long-term effects before they have the chance to add up. Even if you've experienced sleep deprivation over a long period of time, improving your sleep can offer the restorative properties that will help improve your cognition. 

Quality sleep has an important impact on your brain function. Among other things, a good mattress is a vital part of having a comfortable night's sleep. Land of Sleep can help you find a mattress that will best suit your needs. Get in touch today to learn more about our available selection.

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Tags: Sleep Tips, Sleep Health