What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Sleep? And How To Improve It

Women Love Tech
on 26 February 2018

Dr Leonie Kirszenblat from the Queensland Brain Institute explains what happens when you don’t get enough sleep. Read her story.

“As a mum of young children and a sleep researcher at UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute, I’m no stranger to the effects of sleep deprivation: fatigue, crankiness, or difficulty concentrating, to name a few. Although it seems like the brain “switches off” when we sleep, it’s actually far from inactive, and sleep is more important than you may realise.”

What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

Sleep serves many different functions, including storing memories and cleansing the brain of toxins. Rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep is thought to be important for emotional memories or procedural memory (such as how to walk or drive).

Adequate sleep is also important for learning and attention while we’re awake. When we’re sleep deprived, we can’t focus on large amounts of information or pay attention for long periods, and are less likely to be creative or insightful.

The beneficial effects of sleep on attention and concentration are particularly important for kids: research has found that getting just one hour less sleep per night over several nights can adversely affect a child’s behaviour in class.

The longer-term effects of sleep deprivation are more difficult to study in humans, but chronic sleep disturbances have been linked to brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and autism. However, the jury is still out as to whether sleep disturbances are a cause or symptom of these disorders.

So how do I sleep better?

Getting a good night’s sleep is easier said than done, particularly for parents of young children. Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Try to get into a good sleep routine, going to bed at the same time every night, which allows the body’s circadian rhythms affecting sleep-wake cycles to work maximal effect
  • Adults should aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Research has found that a consistent amount of sleep during the week is healthier than trying to catch up on sleep debt at the weekend
  • Avoid using devices such a computers and smartphones before bed, as they can emit blue light that delays the body’s circadian rhythms, affecting sleepiness
  • Napping has been shown to help consolidate memories and can help if you’re sleep deprived. Avoid naps in the late afternoon or evening

If you’re up multiple times during the night, try not to focus on sleep deprivation, as anxiety makes getting back to sleep more difficult

What Happens if you don't get enough sleep?
Dr Leonie Kirszenblat

Women Love Tech would like to thank Dr Leonie Kirszenblat from the Queensland Brain Institute for her contribution


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