I think we all know how bad we feel when we don’t get the proper amount of sleep. It’s very obvious to us (we can’t keep our eyes open or focus properly) and to those around us (we’re cranky and short tempered.) But overtime a lack of sleep can lead to sleep deprivation, which according to Dr. Jeremy Dean, a psychologist and author of the book, Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes that Stick, can have very grave psychological effects.
Here are the most serious:
1. Our brains have to work harder. This is evidenced by imaging studies of sleep deprived brains working overtime to pump energy into the brain’s prefrontal cortex.
2. Our short term memory, also known as “working memory,” necessary for remembering basic functions, and complex tasks; as well as our long term memory, necessary for consolidating, ordering and integrating all the things we learn and do, is compromised.
3. We have trouble making decisions.
4. We revert back to what comes naturally or easy for us. Dr. Dean uses a good example for this. “When we are sleep deprived it is more common for us to eat junk food.” There isn’t a lot of thinking or planning involved in grabbing a bag of chips!
5. We are more prone to take risks. We have all experienced negative consequences from bad choices we have made. Well, when we are tired, logic and reason tend to fly out the window, and we are apt to make those very bad decisions once again.
6. Brain cells die. In a study using mice, 25% of certain brain cells died when they were sleep deprived.
7. Mania, psychosis, paranoia, hallucinations and aggression, are observed in people who suffer from mental illness and this can become a vicious cycle.
8. We are more likely to be in a car accident, because we are unaware of how overtired we really are. We can feel fine and able to drive one minute, and then in the next minute, it hits us and we are falling asleep at the wheel.
In conclusion, Dr. Dean believes that just one good night of sleep will do the trick and solve all these problems. But ultimately, if our children are not sleeping, we will not sleep either. (This is the number one reason why adults don’t get the sleep they need!)
Unfortunately, children are a bit more complex and cannot just erase a sleep debt in one night; and as long as they are in this overtired state, they will not sleep well or properly- another vicious cycle. Avoid this problem by making sure your child gets the sleep they need every day. Not only will they be happier and healthier, you’ll start getting the sleep you need too!