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What Happens to Your Brain When You’re Tired?

It’s a familiar scene: Monday morning, 9:37 am, lukewarm coffee clutched in hand and you’re staring at the computer screen with blank, bleary eyes willing your brain to wake up. 

We all know the unmistakable physical symptoms that follow a bad night’s sleep, but fatigue doesn’t just lead to bags under your eyes and yawning your way through the workday. Even just one night of tossing and turning can have long-lasting consequences on your brain and your ability to function in the world. 

Most sleep experts recommend getting anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep per night; so, what happens when you don’t hit that magic slumber number? Although tiredness affects each of us differently, there are a few major ways that lack of sleep impacts your brain: 

Brain Signals Slow Down

Feel stupid after a night of insomnia? You’re not wrong in thinking that lack of sleep is actually causing your brain cells to slow down and hinder your ability to contemplate clearly. When you don’t get enough shut eye, your mind doesn’t get the chance to restore and repair the all-important neural pathways that connect your brain cells, which can lead to a serious disruption in your overall cognitive function. Not getting enough sleep reduces your ability to transmit signals from one part of the brain to another and you’re left feeling foggy and confused. 

When sleep is compromised and your neurological pathways are clogged, you’re more likely to respond slowly to tasks, make mistakes and feel like you just can’t process information properly. Furthermore, those who suffer from chronic insomnia and prolonged sleep deprivation may be at risk for even more serious issues, with neurons becoming so obstructed with protein that they die off altogether leading to long-term brain damage. 

You Aren’t Able to Retain New Memories

Sleep plays a key role in regulating the hippocampus, the critical part of the brain where new memories are stored. Not getting enough sleep at night compromises your ability to collect and process new memories. 

Memory processing can be broken down into three stages: Acquisition, Consolidation and Recall. While acquisition and recall take place when we’re awake, the consolidation process happens during sleeping hours. Sleep is crucial in helping to solidify and retain memories while transferring new knowledge to a more permanent part of the brain and allowing us to recall this information more efficiently. Don’t get enough sleep and not only will you have trouble absorbing new information, your brain won’t be able to catalogue it effectively to access it at a later date.

You’ll Have Trouble Regulating Emotions

Speaking from personal experience, I know for a fact that sleep deprivation can leave you feeling like an emotional basket-case who is quick to burst into tears or snap in a temper. Just ask any new parent how they feel after a restless night with a newborn.

There are a number of contributing factors at play here. Lack of sleep has a direct impact on the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls emotions. When we don’t get a solid amount of shut-eye, the amygdala becomes as much as 60 percent more active than normal and our emotional responses are heightened and more frequent. Cue the irritability, aggression and overreactive outbursts.  

There is also some evidence to suggest that a lack of sleep can spike serotonin levels in your brain, leading you to feel down and grumpy while chronic sleep deprivation can lead to increased anxiety and depression, resulting in serious mental health issues over time.

When it comes to taking care of your body and mind, there’s no denying the importance of a good night’s sleep. So next time you’re up late watching Netflix or scrolling through your phone, put away the screen and put yourself to bed. Get enough sleep so you can be sure that your brain is well rested and firing on all cylinders the next morning.

First step to getting more sleep? Make your bed a cozy destination with proper bedding. Flax Sleep can help with that!

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