We’ve all heard that getting enough sleep is important, but did you know that lack of sleep can actually affect your brain?
According to the National Institute of Health, teenagers should sleep nine to 10 hours a day, and adults need seven to eight hours a day. Why? Because your brain, like any other machine, needs to power off, recharge and reboot. If not, you’ll experience some serious neurological malfunctions.
What does a lack of sleep do to the mind? Yellowbrick’s staff psychiatrist Dr. Marc Sandrolini says chronic lack of sleep impairs thinking, alters emotions, and interferes with social abilities.
“Poor sleep can make it hard to judge other people’s emotions and reactions. Sleep deficiency can make you feel frustrated, irritable or anxious in social situations,” he says. “A sleepy brain is an anxious brain.”
Chronic lack of sleep is comparable to being under the influence of alcohol. In both cases, inhabitations are in utter disarray. The intoxicated individual and sleep-deprived individual are both out of sorts in their minds, unable to make rational decisions that they otherwise would make when sober or well rested.
“Chronic poor sleep has been linked to increased risk for depression, suicide, and reckless behavior,” Sandrolini says. “It is difficult to exercise good judgment and impulse-control when sleep-deprived.”
Sleep is a commodity that modern society has deemed unproductive. But in reality, the less sleep we get, the more unproductive we become.
Young adults are the biggest demographic of people not getting enough sleep. In fact, when Sandrolini asked young adults why they do not value sleep, they told him that sleeping is a waste of time.
“They feel that they’re so busy that the late evening is the only time they have for themselves,” Sandrolini explains. “They want to get the most out of their time, and sleep seems to get in the way.”
Many young adults think they can stay up late some nights and make up for it by sleeping at other times, but Sandrolini says this doesn’t work.
“A common myth is that one can ‘catch up’ on sleep by napping or sleeping in on weekends,” he says. “This is unfortunately not the case. Nothing can take the place of regular nighttime sleep.”
Sandrolini explains that your brain is a machine that continuously processes information. Sleep is the time where your machine sorts the day’s informational overload into labeled files. Look at it this way — your brain is your own personal computer that stores things in an orderly filing cabinet for easy retrieval. So do not overwork your machine. It needs a break, too.
“We sleep best when we disconnect our brain a little from the fireworks of daily life,” Sandrolini says.
At Yellowbrick, staff members teach young adults how to develop healthy sleep habits so they can be at the top of their mental game. Here are some healthy habits and tips that ensure you stick to a sleep routine:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including on weekends. Staying up late and sleeping in on weekends can disrupt your body clock’s natural rhythm.
- Spend the hour before bed doing quiet, relaxing activities. Avoid heavy exercise and bright light, such as from a TV or computer screen. The light can trick the brain into believing it is time to be awake.
- Avoid big meals and alcohol just before bedtime.
- Minimize nicotine and caffeine. Caffeine can last as long as 8 hours, so a late afternoon coffee can interfere with falling asleep at night.
- Spend time outside every day.
- Exercise regularly, even if just a walk.
- Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark.
- A brief nap can enhance alertness and performance. But multiple naps or naps longer than 20 minutes can disrupt normal sleep cycles.
Find out more about Yellowbrick’s Neuropsychological Testing of Cognitive Functioning.