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Does A Lack Of Sleep Affect Your Brain?

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The average adult requires seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Getting enough quality deep sleep at night is vital for functioning correctly during the day. If you don’t sleep well, you end up groggy, slow, and irritable with a seemingly reduced mental capacity.

However, the effects of not sleeping well are cumulative, making chronic insomnia such a big problem. The longer you go without quality deep sleep, the worse the myriad of symptoms your brain and body will experience. So what exactly happens to your brain when you don’t sleep at all? Let’s explore.

Sleep Deprivation

Not sleeping well for one night is an annoying but generally surmountable issue. However, it’s when you find yourself unable to get the hours of sleep needed for multiple days at a time that the problems begin to develop and become something much more severe. Sleep deprivation is a condition caused by a lack of adequate sleep on a consistent basis. Each year, approximately one-third of American adults experience sleep deprivation due to any number of factors, including:

  • Sleep cycle for less than seven hours
  • Sleeping at inconsistent times of the day (going to sleep in the afternoon one day, then sleeping at night the next)
  • Not getting a good sleep quality even with the right number of hours
  • Not sleeping at all

While the longest recorded time spent without sleep was 11 days and 25 minutes, there’s no definitive amount of time that the human body can safely go without sleep without having effects of sleep deprivation. Some people can function fine without a day or two of sleep, while others become nonfunctional after missing two hours of shut-eye in their sleep cycle. Age and overall health are both factors in determining how long a person can go without sleep and not experience any adverse effects.

Sleep Deprivation Vs. Insomnia

Although some people use them as interchangeable terms, there is a difference between sleep deprivation and insomnia. Sleep deprivation is caused by external factors, such as stress, anxiety, uncomfortable temperatures, noise, or distractions. Insomnia is a condition where lack of sleep occurs with no discernable external factors. Sleep deprivation requires a change in your surroundings or habits, while insomnia requires treatment to assist with lack of sleep affects.

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What Happens To The Brain?

Lack of sleep has a multitude of effects on the brain. Their occurrence and severity depend on the type of sleep deprivation you’re experiencing; whether it’s acute or chronic. The longer no sleep per night goes on, the more severe the symptoms become.

Decrease In Cognitive Function

Cognitive functons and creative thinking are some of the first brain function things to be affected. These effects of sleep deprivation occurs because the brain uses the inferior frontal gyrus to draw on divergent thinking processes to compensate for the lack of cognitive functioning. This compensation, however, doesn’t mean that your mental function will be normal but that creative processes like divergent thinking will suffer.

Memory Loss And Altered Memories

Your memories will also start to be affected if you continuously skip out on sleep or attempt to just get light sleep. Not only does the hippocampus, which is responsible for encoding new information into the waking mind, end up being affected, but your prefrontal cortex and parietal lobe are also diminished. These alterations result in you not only having a hard time making new memories, but you can also end up misremembering things. 

Impairment Of Rational Thought And Consideration For Consequences

Effects of sleep deprivation will also cause rational decision-making to go out the window. When making decisions, the reward center in the prefrontal cortex is activated more often in a sleep-deprived brain, meaning that you have a greater expectation for that decision to result in a positive effect. Meanwhile, there is decreased activity in the region of the brain related to punishment and aversion, meaning that consequences have far less impact. These alterations will lead to severe impulse control issues, which will only worsen as time without sleep goes on.

Greater Development Of Addictive Behaviors

On top of the decreased activity in the frontal lobe, your amygdala, a limbic system critical to emotional processing, goes into overdrive. These neural alterations create a mechanism that dulls rational thought and increases desire. Because of this, the effects of sleep deprivation can lead to eating binges, gambling problems, and other addictive behaviors.

Emotional Volatility And Rage Issues

Emotional instability is another relationship between sleep and sleep deprivation. It’s normal to experience irritability after missing out on a normal sleep night, but that irritability will progress to rage and volatility once you begin losing more than a night of sleep. This is because the amygdala communicates with the medial prefrontal cortex, which helps to regulate emotions. Sleep deprivation leads to a lack of REM sleep, which cuts off the communication between the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex, causing your brain to stop regulating your emotions and activating your fight-or-flight response much more readily.

Hallucinations And Inability To Interpret Reality

When your brain is well-rested, it is able to filter stimuli to assess what is important and what isn’t to prevent sensory overload. However, sleep deprivation and not getting normal sleep decreases the effectiveness of this filter. Without your brain’s ability to sort through various stimuli, you will experience visual, auditory, and even olfactory hallucinations due to sleep quality. And these hallucinations can occur with as little as one night of missed sleep.

The longer you go without sleeping, the more complex your hallucinations will become. Over time, your perception will become warped, and you will experience delusions and depersonalization. It becomes far more challenging to determine what’s real and what isn’t, which is a hazardous stage of sleep deprivation and physical health. 

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It’s No Bull To Say That You Need Sleep

The effects that sleep deprivation will have on your brain can be terrifying. So, it’s best to avoid them with a good night’s sleep on a quality mattress. At No Bull, our mattresses are guaranteed to help you maintain your sleep schedule and your hold on your sanity. Plus, see why making your bed every morning helps your day! In addition, we give you our best prices with a 5-year, 100% cashback guarantee that we firmly stand behind. 

So, don’t hesitate. Visit No Bull! Mattresses And More to take a look at our wide selection of mattresses and see why a quality bed is no bull.



Lack of sleep can impair cognitive function, memory, and decision-making abilities, and increase the risk of mental health disorders.
Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night to maintain optimal brain function.
Yes, chronic sleep deprivation can cause long-term damage to the brain and increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.

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