We all know that missing sleep doesn't feel good. It makes you less able to think clearly, focus well, and makes most people feel more moody (in other words, grumpy). But a new study, published in the journal Sleep, says that pulling an all-nighter or regularly sleeping less than you should can actually damage your brain.
The study's researchers looked at specific proteins that are usually found in brain-injured people (concussions) and found that those protein levels were higher (20% higher) in people who worked all night, compared to a control group that got a good night's rest. While the levels weren't as high as the protein levels found in concussed people, the study shows that lack of sleep does real physical damage to the brain.
“It's during sleep that unimportant synapses are discarded and the important synaptic ties are strengthened," Dr. Emerson Wickwire, Sleep Medicine program director at Howard County Centre for Lung and Sleep Medicine in Columbia, Maryland, and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, told Fast Company.
When you lose sleep (or worse, don't sleep at all), you brain is unable to do those important repairs and maintenance activities. Outside of it affecting your brain, the work you do while sleep-deprived is also likely to be riddled with errors. Think you are better than that? Many of the most significant disasters of the last 20 years are due to lack of sleep and ensuing human error, including the Challenger disaster, the Chernobyl explosion, the Exxon Valdez Oil spill and plenty of others (and near-misses)— and these were mistakes made by highly trained, experienced professionals. Who needed more rest than they got.
And no, you can't make up for the damage done by missed sleep once it's behind you. But you can minimize damage by banking sleep (that is, sleeping more in advance of a time you know you're going to sleep less).
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