Here’s Your Brain on Too Little Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep consistently is crucial to brain health. Insufficient sleep can result in hallucinations, psychosis, and long-term memory impairment.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. But, alas, we are a sleep deprived society.

The American Sleep Disorders Association recognizes more than 85 sleep disorders  affecting more than 70 million Americans. Add to that the growing number of adults who simply “train” themselves to get by on less sleep due to work commitments or other competing interests.

Also, the notion that those who are young can get away with less sleep unscathed is erroneous. Sleep deprivation deteriorates accuracy of cognitive performance, particularlywith those who are young.

Sleep deprivation doesn’t just leave one feeling fuzzy-headed, chronically getting by with too little sleep can cause psychological damage. The reason for this is that sleep regulates the brain’s flow of epinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, chemicals closely associated with mood and behavior.

But getting by on too little sleep affects far more than just your brain. Researchers have observed more than 700 genetic changes in people after just seven nights of too little sleep. Here are just some of the risks associated with sleep deprivation:

  • Can increase your risk for stroke by four times
  • Leads to obesity
  • Increases your risk for diabetes
  • Induces memory loss
  • Lowers the immune system
  • Can lead to permanent cognitive issues including “brain deterioration”
  • May lead to osteoporosis (due to the body’s inability to repair itself)
  • May increase risk of certain types of cancer – especially colorectal and breast
  • Can promote heart disease. One study found that people who slept for six hours or less each night and have problems staying asleep had a 48 percent higher risk of developing or dying from heart disease.
  • A 2010 study examined the impact of short sleep on mortality and found that men who slept for less than six hours a night over a 14-year periodwere four times more likely to die.

Like W.C. Fields quipped many years ago, “The best cure for insomnia is a good night’s sleep!” If you’re one who just tries to scrimp on sleep, you’ll definitely pay for it later and it may be costing you more now than you realize.

If, on the other hand, you long for a good night’s sleep, but it eludes you, there are a number of treatments you can try. Many people find relief through a combination of good sleep habits, a healthy diet and regular exercise. Examples of good sleep habits include:

  • If you smoke or use tobacco, stop!
  • Avoid excessive alcohol and don’t drink before bed
  • Refrain from drinking caffeinated beverages at night
  • Stay on a nightly routine bedtime whenever possible
  • Avoid overeating at supper or eating after 7pm
  • Darken your bedroom sufficiently

Of course the medical community would like to give you drugs, but these often have troubling side-effects and many are addictive. Instead, an enjoyable and effective solution that works for many people is listening to classical or other easy-listening music.

In many cases, listening to music can change brain function to the same degree as medication, according to Gabe Turow, the organizer of a Stanford University symposium that studied the therapeutic benefits of musical rhythm.