Sleep Deprivation and Disease: Effects on the Body, Brain and Behavior

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In some respects, the treatment recommended for the most common sleep problem, insomnia, is the same for all patients, regardless of whether they also suffer from psychiatric disorders. The fundamentals are a combination of lifestyle changes, behavioral strategies, psychotherapy, and drugs if necessary. Lifestyle changes. Most people know that caffeine contributes to sleeplessness, but so can alcohol and nicotine. Alcohol initially depresses the nervous system, which helps some people fall asleep, but the effects wear off in a few hours and people wake up.

Nicotine is a stimulant, which speeds heart rate and thinking. Giving up these substances is best, but avoiding them before bedtime is another option. Physical activity. Regular aerobic activity helps people fall asleep faster, spend more time in deep sleep, and awaken less often during the night.

The Spooky Effects of Sleep Deprivation | Live Science

Sleep hygiene. Many experts believe that people learn insomnia, and can learn how to sleep better. Good "sleep hygiene" is the term often used to include tips like maintaining a regular sleep-and-wake schedule, using the bedroom only for sleeping or sex, and keeping the bedroom dark and free of distractions like the computer or television. Some experts also recommend sleep retraining: staying awake longer in order to ensure sleep is more restful.

Relaxation techniques. Meditation , guided imagery, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation alternately tensing and releasing muscles can counter anxiety and racing thoughts. Cognitive behavioral therapy. Because people with insomnia tend to become preoccupied with not falling asleep, cognitive behavioral techniques help them to change negative expectations and try to build more confidence that they can have a good night's sleep.

These techniques can also help to change the "blame game" of attributing every personal problem during the day on lack of sleep. Disclaimer: As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content.


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Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician. Harvard Mental Health Letter. Sleep deprivation can affect your mental health Updated: March 18, Published: July, Use the link below to share a full-text version of this article with your friends and colleagues. Learn more. Sleep is produced by the brain, but it remains unclear what it is doing for the brain and how insufficient sleep also affects the body.

In the current issue of the journal, a wide array of approaches are used to further our understanding of the sleep—brain—body triangle. In the first two papers, REM sleep behaviour disorder is used as a model to study sleep. The effects are different for fast and slow spindles and vary with brain region. The current findings may lead to more research on sleep spindle activity as a predictive biomarker for neurodegeneration.


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  4. It can, of course, also be argued that it is not the dream which is causing the behaviour, but that the behaviour is causing the dream cf. The enigma persists. They point out that previous sleep deprivation studies failed to find an effect on one of the most widely used tests — measures to study inhibitory control mechanisms, i. In essence, the interference effect describes how incongruent information the word blue, written in red leads to slower responses and more errors.

    Gever and colleagues reinvestigate this phenomenon by using a modified version of the Stroop test, paying specific attention to the sequences in which congruent and incongruent stimuli are presented. In contrast to previous studies, they find an effect of sleep deprivation on the interference effect. Thus, sleep deprivation has an effect on this type of brain process, but why is it so difficult to detect and why is the effect relatively small? It seems that the main effect of sleep deprivation is to make the brain sleepy, rather than impairing its ability to perform complex tasks.

    Massar and Chee further investigated the effects of total sleep deprivation on brain function Massar and Chee, Making the correct decision i. In the experiment participants could collect a large reward by waiting or a smaller reward by quitting the trial. The correct decision differed between two versions of the test, in which the distribution of delays differed.

    Sleep loss: effects on brain and body in the very young and very old

    Electrodes are placed at various points on the body, including the scalp and face. The person with suspected sleep deprivation will sleep overnight at a sleep clinic, and these monitors will measure breathing, blood, heart rate and rhythm, muscle activity, and brain and eye movements during sleep. Especially in those who wilfully sleep too little, diagnosis can be as simple as recognizing that you do not get enough sleep and deciding to make changes. Sleep deprivation weakens the ability of the part of the brain that handles reasoning, known as the prefrontal cortex, to control the emotional part, the amygdala.

    This leads to the abnormal processing of emotions. Sleep also appears to be necessary to prepare the brain for learning. When the brain is deprived of sleep, it is difficult to concentrate and form new memories. When we stay awake all night or significantly cut sleep short, the body does not release the hormones necessary to regulate growth and appetite, and instead forms an overabundance of stress chemicals, such as norepinephrine and cortisol. Research suggests shorter sleep durations may be a predictor of weight gain in adults and children.

    Each 1 hour reduction in sleep time per day is associated with an increase of 0. These changes result in an increased risk for hypertension , diabetes , obesity, heart attack , and stroke in the sleep-deprived individual.

    Sleep loss can have a profound impact on both emotional function and normal thinking abilities in healthy individuals, resulting in:. Sleep-deprived people are more likely to report increased feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, powerlessness, failure, low self-esteem, poor job performance, conflicts with coworkers, and reduced quality of life.

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    The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Body

    Many of these deficits remain even when alertness is sustained with stimulants such as caffeine. Finally, sleep-deprived individuals score higher on clinical scales measuring depression, anxiety , and paranoia. After around 16 hours of staying awake, the body attempts to balance the need for sleep. If a person does not get enough sleep, the brain obtains sleep through short sleep attacks called microsleeps.

    This is an uncontrollable brain response that renders a person unable to process environmental stimulation and sensory information for a brief amount of time. A person's eyes often remain open during microsleeps, but they are essentially "zoned out. Microsleeps will continue to occur despite an individual's forced attempt to stay awake, and because of this inbuilt sleep mechanism, it is extremely difficult for an individual to remain awake for more than 48 hours straight.

    Sleep deprivation can be linked to serious accidents and poor job or school performances. It can substantially lower an individual's overall quality of life. Lack of sleep disrupts the brain's ability to balance emotions and thinking abilities, lowers the body's natural defenses, and increases the chances of developing chronic medical problems. While the occasional poor night's sleep is not a serious problem in itself, persistent sleep deprivation can be.

    There is no substitute for restorative sleep. A certain amount of care should be taken to prevent ongoing sleep deprivation in individuals of all ages. Article last updated by Adam Felman on Thu 25 January All references are available in the References tab. Choudhary, S. Sleep effects on breathing and respiratory diseases. Lung India, 26 4 , Epstein, L. The Harvard Medical School Guide to a good night's sleep. McGraw Hill, NY. He, Q. The association between insomnia symptoms and risk of cardio-cerebral vascular events: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies [Abstract].

    European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, 24 Hirotsu, C. Interactions between sleep, stress, and metabolism: From physiological to pathological conditions. Sleep Science, 8 3 Jones, J. Kilgore, W. Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition [Abstract]. Naitoh, P. Health effects of sleep deprivation. Occupational Medicine: State of the Art Reviews, 5 2 , National sleep foundation recommends new sleep times.

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    Walker, M. Sleep, memory, and plasticity. Annual Review of Psychology, 57 ,