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How Sleep Affects Your Brain’s Health

by in Medical Care May 21, 2019

The human brain is a remarkable organ that requires a tremendous amount of energy to run.  On average, 20% of our total energy is occupied in keeping the neurons between our ears humming along.

Brain function is also highly dependent on proper hormone levels to regulate its many activities. Given these facts, it no surprise that lack of sleep can have huge immediate and ongoing effects on cognitive health.

Who’s At Risk?

1. People with Poor Sleep Habits

Those who consistently sleep less than the recommended 7-8.5 hours per night are generally more at risk for all negative effects of sleep deprivation, including cognitive symptoms.

2. People with Jobs Requiring Shift Work

If you’re in a job that frequently changes the time of day that you work, you are more likely to be deprived of total sleep time and also get a poor quality of sleep, due to disruption of your circadian rhythm.

3. People with Sleep Disorders

Some sleep disorders, such as insomnia, cause a loss of total hours of sleep, while others (like Obstructive Sleep Apnea) degrade the quality of sleep. Both of these factors can lead to negative cognitive outcomes.

Some Cognitive Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation

1. Mood and Energy

A lack of sleep has an immediate impact on hormones controlling mood and energy, such as serotonin, dopamine and cortisol.

The pituitary gland, which is the primary organ regulating hormone production and function, is highly dependent on quality sleep. Noticeable changes in hormone levels are noticeable after just one or two nights of sleep deprivation, and generally continue until a person can get enough quality sleep to restore balance to the system.

2. Focus and Concentration / Impaired Driving

Lack of sleep can also quickly and severely impact the focus and concentration needed for complex tasks like driving.

A study by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine tested subjects who had gone 17-19 hours without sleep (the equivalent getting up at 6am and still being up at 1am-3am the next day). Participants had response times and accuracy equivalent to those who had a blood alcohol level of 0.05%. After 20 hours of sleep deprivation, performance of some subjects was equivalent to having a BAC of 0.10% (above the 0.08% legal limit in all 50 U.S. states).

3. Sleep Deprivation and Memory

A growing body of research is investigating the link between chronic sleep deprivation and memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

One 2008 study found an “inverted U-shape” relationship between sleep and cognitive function,  suggesting that both lack of sleep (less than seven hours per night) and excessive sleep (greater than nine hours per night) contributed to memory loss among middle-aged subjects.

Another study showing the adults that had higher scores on a “sleep disturbance index” that measured sleep problems, fatigue, sleep medication use and changes in sleep pattern had a 23% greater chance of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s in the next four years.

Screening for Sleep Disorders and Measuring Sleep Quality

At Apple Healthcare, we offer take-home sleep studies than can be used to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea in the comfort of your own bed without the cost and hassle of an in-lab sleep study. We also help patients with OSA improve the quality of their sleep by providing APAP machines and masks.

Want to learn more about the take-home sleep studies we offer or make an appointment? Give us a call at 865-524-1234!

May is “Sleep Month” at Apple Healthcare. All month long we’ll be helping you learn how to get great sleep to enjoy great health! Follow us on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram, or subscribe to our Newsletter for more information.