What does sleep deprivation really do with your brain? This is the answer

According to the National Sleep Foundation, an adult needs about eight to nine hours of sleep per night. Of course we don't know how much you sleep

very once in a while everyone has a ceiling service aka a sleepless night. Very annoying of course and the next day you often suffer a little than usual. But besides being tired, drowsy and grumpy, sleep deprivation actually has an impact on your brain itself, writes sister NSMBL .

It doesn’t matter if you have difficulty falling asleep several times a week, or if you went to sleep much too late one night. Even a single night’s lack of sleep affects your body.

The consequences of sleep deprivation

According to the National Sleep Foundation, an adult needs about eight to nine hours of sleep per night. Of course we don’t know how much you sleep, but we often don’t get here. That is why we often ask ourselves to what extent this is really harmful to your body and especially your brain.

There have been many investigations into the consequences of severe sleep deprivation. For example, it has been proven that if you sleep for a very long time, you can hallucinate and become sensitive to psychosis. It is not without reason that keeping prisoners awake is a torture technique. But when it comes to the actual effect of sleep deprivation on your brain, a single night can already have an effect.

“Sleep changes the physical structure of the brain on a microscopic level,”says sleep professor Dr. Avram R. Gold. These changes vary enormously and concern specific areas of your brain, but also their overall well-being.


Een van de gevolgen van gebrek aan slaap is geheugenverlies. Dr. Gold legt uit: “Sleep deprivation causes the undoing of synapses in the hippocampus that were formed to store short-term memory. During sleep, short term memory is transferred to long-term memory storage in the other parts of the cortex, the synapses that stored the memory in the hippocampus are undone, and the hippocampus has space to store new short-term memory. Sleep deprivation gets in the way of this undoing of synapses. They remain intact in the hippocampus keeping the memory current.”

Well, you will not succeed in changing short-term reminders to long-term reminders if you get too little sleep. That is annoying because you will forget many things and you will not, for example, save material you learn.

Communication between the cells in your brain is deteriorating

In addition to memory loss, it also appears that lack of sleep affects how the cells in your brain communicate. A study into sleep deprivation in 2017 shows that the electrical signals to different parts of your brain (this is how cells communicate) deteriorate. Cells no longer “talk” effectively to each other. So if you have a task where you have to use multiple areas of the brain, this will be much more difficult if you sleep too little.

Your reward system doesn’t understand anything anymore

A part of your brain is linked to rewards and the great feeling we get when we do something fun. According to a study from 2017, that area also feels the negative consequences of lack of sleep. According to researcher Nora Volkow, this is due to the effect of lack of sleep on the production of dopamine. Your brain cells can release dopamine but not receive it.

The result? It is difficult to estimate risks so that we take greater risks. If you have not slept much during the night, do not try to cycle through orange. Because there is a good chance that you have completely misjudged the time you have and that you are a traffic hazard.

No motivation and very emotional

In addition to taking the wrong risks, there are more consequences. This reduces your sense of motivation, your emotions are confused and your movement is also not optimal. In addition, research shows that a single night’s sleep deprivation can cause your dopamine level to get a temporary boost. This explains why you sometimes get a little hyper or feel euphoric after a night out (until you suddenly collapse after lunch).

Fortunately, a single night’s sleep deprivation does not cause permanent damage. But if you regularly miss nights of sleep, it doesn’t hurt to visit a doctor.

Enough sleep is the best thing you can do for your health

We sleep on average one third of our lives. And yet many people still don’t get enough sleep. That is a problem because sleep according to sleep scientist Dan Gartenberg is the best thing we can do for our health. It is even more important than exercise or dieting.

In 2018 we live in a busy world where many people really don’t get the necessary eight hours of sleep. The motto: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” fits well with our lifestyle. We actually know that getting enough sleep does a lot for our health. Quite strange actually, that we are still not going to sleep an hour earlier.

Why don’t we get enough sleep?

Why don’t we get enough sleep ? Due to social media such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, putting away our phone is becoming increasingly difficult. You still want to know who sent you that app and oh, did you respond to your girlfriend who just mentioned you on Facebook? It is also just very handy to be constantly available. But a night’s sleep of (at least) eight hours is very important for your health.

We all too often underestimate how important that full eight-hour sleep is. After one night of poor sleep, we already notice that our body has difficulty concentrating. We often get irritated a little faster. These are all the consequences after a bad night’s sleep. You have to consider how bad the consequences will be in the longer term. From  16 studies  have shown that sleeping less than six to eight hours a night, the risk of premature death increased by twelve percent.

You probably did not expect such serious consequences and to be honest,I was also surprised. Fiercely! Twelve percent per night. And these are not the only consequences of a sleep deprivation: binge eating, cardiovascular disease and a weakened immune system, to name a few.

What can we do for a better night’s sleep?

There are plenty of tips that can help you get a better night’s sleep. Perhaps the most difficult: put that phone away! Our telephone is one of the biggest reasons why we cannot sleep. The same applies to your computer and all other electronics. Store your electronics at least an hour in advance and no longer look at it.

Other things that can help:

  • Sleep in a cool room
  • Exercise regularly
  • Take a power nap once in a while (which lasts no longer than thirty minutes)
  • Make sure you get enough sunlight in one day
  • Breakfast (it’s really very important)
  • Assume that you get 8.5 hours of sleep, then you have those 8 anyway
  • Overtaking sleep is a myth, so make sure you get enough sleep today

Sleep is good for our health

Even though we sometimes don’t want to surrender to it: sleep is so incredibly important. It ensures that we look healthy, that we can function normally. And it also ensures that we can enjoy our day. And that is not entirely unimportant.

Curious about the explanation from Dan Gartenberg?

Having trouble sleeping? Sleep experts do this if they are unable to get to sleep

A good night’s sleep is extremely important to be productive during the day. If you sleep enough, you can start working full of energy the next day. Unfortunately a good night’s sleep is not obvious. Do you also have trouble sleeping? We collected tips and tricks from sleeping experts, because if someone knows how to fall asleep well, then they are. 

You probably know that you should not drink a cup of coffee before bed. Or that you don’t have to sit on your phone before you go to bed. You’ve probably heard those tips. You probably don’t know these tricks yet.

Stay awake

Yes, you read that right: stay awake. If Sujay Kansagra, director of the sleep medicine program at Duke University cannot sleep, she stays awake. This may sound a bit crooked, but according to Sujay it helps.

If you are afraid that you will not fall asleep then it often does not work either. By shifting your focus to staying awake, you lose that fear. This technique is known as the paradoxical intention. If you don’t worry, it’s easier to fall asleep.

Relax your muscles before bed

According to neurologist Sandra Block, you sleep better when your muscles are relaxed. Progressive muscle relaxation exercises do the trick. It is quite a mouthful, but fortunately it is not difficult. It’s all about tightening and relaxing the muscle groups.

Start with your toes and end with your head. You slowly contract each muscle group and then relax them. Do this at 5-second intervals. Then end the exercise by visualizing that you are in a nice place, such as in the forest or on the beach.

A bedtime smoothie

You don’t just drink a smoothie in the morning to get your day off to a good start. You might not expect it, but drinking a smoothie is also good for sleeping. Robert S. Rosenburg specializes in sleep medicine and author of  Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day . The author recommends a smoothie before bed for a good night’s rest.

He himself uses Greek yogurt and almond milk in his smoothie, because they are full of nutrients that improve sleep. Frozen cherries also go in its smoothie, because they prolong your sleep by an hour. Finally, he adds a pinch of cinnamon for a nice bedtime smoothie.

A degree lower in the bedroom

Robert S. Rosenburg also recommends sleeping in a cool room. In the winter we tend to turn the heating up a degree. If you want to sleep well, you should not do this. Various studies have shown that the best temperature for sleeping is between 16 and 21 degrees.

Your body temperature drops at night and gives your brain the signal that it’s time to go to bed. A warm room, as it were, disrupts this process. So choose a degree lower than higher. It should of course not be too cold, because with the heating on the Syberia position you also don’t fall asleep.

Breathing and counting backwards

With a good breathing exercise you fall asleep like a log. Jose Colon, author of The Sleep Diet , is convinced of that. If he can’t sleep, he focuses on his breathing. Instead of counting forwards (like counting with sheep), he counts backwards from a hundred. Are you losing count? No stress and start again. By counting backwards, you are consciously busy with your breathing and that has a relaxing effect, which makes you fall asleep faster.

No pets in bed

The latest advice is a tricky one for anyone who loves his pet. According to Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute in North Carolina, it is not a good idea to lie in bed with your pet. Animals have a different biological rhythm and therefore they move more at night. This can disrupt your sleep and therefore it is better for your dog or cat to sleep in another room.

Why snoozing is hell for your brain

Many of us are guilty of it. We sniffed  that alarm clock and turned around nicely. Because well, what do those five minutes matter? Unfortunately it never stops with those five minutes and we have to hurry to arrive on time. But why don’t we wake up properly after snoozing the alarm clock?

According to neuroscientist and sleep consultant Els van der Helm, it is bad to snooze your alarm clock and actually to wake up from your alarm clock at all. Wait, what? It is good to know that you wake up by yourself when you have slept enough. An alarm clock is therefore a sign that you do not get enough sleep.

Snoozen ruined the quality of your sleep

Okay, this sounds a bit vague, but it really is! As we said above, you don’t actually need an alarm clock in the first place. If you get enough sleep then. In reality, many people underestimate how much sleep they need. Guilty! And yet it is very important that we get enough sleep.

But why is delaying your alarm clock actually bad for us? “Other areas of the brain and dust are active when you are awake than when you are sleeping. If it’s up to your brain, they prefer to sleep undisturbed, “says Els. So if you push your alarm clock away to stay still, your brain will be taken out of their sleep one more time.

So if you don’t push your alarm clock away (or wake up from yourself!), Your sleep will have a better quality than if you snooze.

Struggling to stop snoozing?

Do you have trouble stopping snoozing? You’re not alone. But there are a few solutions that can help you. Apparently snoozing is not really necessary, and to be honest. How good is it to grab your full eight hours of sleep?

You can probably guess what we’re going to say, but it works:

Go to bed on time

The earlier you go to bed, the earlier you get to sleep. And it is not bad at all to go to bed sometimes at half past nine.

Get up later

Can’t sleep early? Then try the opposite. Try to get up later. This may be a bit more difficult for students and working people. But if you set your alarm clock at six o’clock and you know that you will stay up until half past seven, why shouldn’t you just set your alarm clock at half past seven?

Fixed bed times

No matter how childish it may sound, it really is a golden tip. If you go to bed at the same time every day and you get up at about the same time every day, your body gets used to it and it takes less effort.

Sleep apps

Are you really desperate and the tips above don’t work? Then we have another solution for you. There are various sleep apps that tell you what you can change to improve your sleep.

In the Els (Shleep) app there is even a module that unlearns you to snooze within ten days. How handy!

At Pzizz they help you fall asleep with better (and easier) sounds. To prevent you from getting used to the sounds, the app offers multiple sounds.

And although the above apps focus primarily on the night’s rest, there are also apps that focus on  powernaps. Brainwave is an example of such an app. The app gives you a maximum duration which ensures that you do not sleep too long.

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