Sleep is an important part of our lives. Not only do we need it to recover and function throughout the day, but it is also a crucial part of our health. When we’re feeling sick, our bodies need more sleep than usual.
Similarly, when we don’t sleep enough our immune system weakens and we might catch a cold more easily.
But it’s not only our general health that is affected by our sleep patterns. It turns out that our mental health might even be much more susceptible to changes in our sleep routines. In this article, we’re going to talk about all the ways sleep can affect your mind.
However, let’s first mention why is sleep important and what happens to our bodies and brains while we’re asleep.
Why Do We Need Sleep?
For animals, as well as for humans, it is impossible to survive without sleep. In order to prove that, several scientists have deprived themselves or their research participants from sleep for days, and the results were always the same.
What they all experienced was a decrease in cognitive skills, a drop in awareness and focus to their surroundings, as well as an over-exhaustion. They also felt much weaker, their immune system was damaged and so on.
So, what are the main reasons we sleep?
We sleep in order to:
- Repair our organs and muscles
- Restore and strengthen our immune system
- Rebalance our hormones
- Help our brain retain information
When putting it like this, it seems all quite simple. But what can sleep do to our minds apart from making us feel cranky when we’re sleep-deprived, or making us feel happy when we’re well rested?
Let’s find out what are the main ways your sleep can affect your brain.
Sleeping Affects Learning and Memory
Staying up all night before an exam was found to have really poor effects on how we memorize and learn. On the other hand, getting a night of good sleep before heading to an exam has shown to have many more benefits on our brain and how we remember things.
This is why naps often provide a fairly good and efficient boost to our learning capabilities. Some people claim that they managed to memorize better and improve their performances thanks to using power naps to recover during studying or working.
Our brain simply needs sleep in order to process all new information received throughout the day. When not sleeping sufficiently, our brains don’t have enough energy to store new things we learn.
As a result of this lack of energy, it becomes much harder to recall things. Without having and maintaining a regular sleeping pattern <strong>humans can become forgetful</strong> and develop mentally.
Thanks to these findings, it became evident that chronic sleep deprivation increases one’s dementia risks in older age.
Lack Of Sleep Decreases Our Cognitive Skills
Sleep does more than just enhancing our memory skills. Apparently, when we are well-rested our mind is much clearer, and our brain cells function properly. When we’re tired or sleep-deprived, our brain cells become unable to process information accordingly or to translate images into conscious thoughts.
This is exactly the reason why driving is highly discouraged when a person is tired. In fact, a research study has shown that sleep deprivation had almost the same effects on our brain as alcohol.
A sleepless night will slow you down, make your brain less active and potentially lead to poorer decisions.
You Might Eat More Unhealthy When Sleep Deprived
Since sleep affects and recovers our prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that is responsible for planning and decision making, it can become much easier to lose self-control which will result in faulty decisions.
As a result of this change in the way your brain thinks, you might be less self-controlled when it comes to food. It has been shown that self deprived people tend to eat more processed and unhealthy food compared to people that get the proper amount of sleep.
This is also why obesity is often linked to sleep deprivation as well.
Sleeping Affects Your Mood
Not only will decreased amount of sleep make you less efficient on work, decrease your performance and lead to poorer decisions, but it will also affect your mood.
A study has found that women that were deprived of sleep experienced higher levels of anger, depression, and hostility early in the morning when compared to women that slept full 8 hours.
It’s not so uncommon to feel cranky, more irritable and impatient when we lack sleep. On the flipside, when we sleep well, we feel happier, full of energy and ready to take on whatever the day might bring.
This is why depression, anxiety and other mental issues are often connected to sleeping disorders such as shift work sleep disorder, insomnia, interrupted sleep and so on.
Not Sleeping Enough Might Result In Less Creativity
Researches have shown that people that were deprived of sleep, or that have slept only a few hours less than 8 hours, were less likely to think outside of the box, come up with creative solutions and maintain their problem-solving skills.
On the other side, getting a full night of sleep promotes creativity. This was proven thanks to a study testing participants on a task involving numbers. People that have slept more managed to figure out the problem faster and at a more successful rate than people who were sleep-deprived.
Sleep Enables More Efficient Multitasking Skills
Multitasking is possible thanks to the activity of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that enables us to do several tasks simultaneously and that needs sleep in order to function properly.
This is also another reason why it is better not to drive when tired. Not only our brain functions more slowly and isn’t able to alertly respond to our surroundings, but the cortical function of multitasking is weakened by a lot when we don’t get enough sleep.
Your Brain Gets Rid Of Unnecessary “Trash”
Our brains have a system that gets rid of unnecessary toxins and, apparently, this system seems to be most active during sleep. A recent study about this brain’s system has thought us that by sleeping, our brains manage to eliminate bad toxins that can cause Alzheimer’s or other neurological disorders.
During this process, brain cells also shrink in size in order to allow toxic waste to be eliminated properly from the brain.