Guest Post: The Connection Between Sleep Deprivation and Memory Loss: 5 Scary Facts

The high-speed world of today has little time for proper rest. Your job, family life, the classes you might be taking to improve your skills and other activities require you to be active the entire day. Pulled in 100 different directions, you end up taking time away from the one period that should be left untouched – your sleeping hours.

While the importance of sleep is always stressed, the dangers of sleep deprivation are not so widely known. Among them you can find an increased risk of heart disease, a similar increase in the risk of cancer, a halt in new neuron production, weight gain, premature aging and an overall weakening of the organism that leaves it vulnerable to disease and injury.

5 Facts

One of the scariest outcomes of sleep deprivation is, however, memory loss. Properly studied and documented only now, thanks to the means of modern medicine, the connection between the two leads to five staggering facts.

1. Sleep deprivation affects recent memories

Using color photograms to test the connection between sleep deprivation and memory, a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that recency discrimination, or temporal memories, suffers from the lack of sleep. Subjects were able to make perfect distinctions between previously presented and novel faces but not to remember their order, even after a relatively short period of sleep deprivation.

2. Caffeine has no effect

The same study used caffeine for one of its test groups and compared it with a placebo for another group of people that were sleep deprived. Although the caffeine group felt less sleepy, both sleep deprivation groups had poorer insight into their performance with recency than the well-rested control group.

Caffeine is used almost daily by a large portion of the population in order to “wake up properly” or to stay up late. However, its effect is limited to making you feel less sleepy. While the sensation of being fully awake is present, your body is still sensing the urge to sleep. Even more, because you will not feel the stress, you will likely press on and try to study or work more, further damaging your organism.

3. Not sleeping affects the ability to learn

A 2008 study that used neuroimaging and experimental paradigms uncovered that, while vulnerability to sleep deprivation was different for each individual, its impact on brain functions was significant.

Evidence showed that the difference between sleep-deprived and well-rested brains was evident when it came to learning and other cognitive functions.

4. You’re not allowing your brain to recover

Memory consolidation is impaired by as little as five hours of sleep deprivation. In-depth research has proven that not sleeping significantly reduces the length and spine density of the dendrites belonging to the neurons in one region of the hippocampus. Once affected, the brains of the mice used in this test recovered only after an immediate period of three hours of sleep.

What you should take from this fact is that if you cannot avoid a period of sleep deprivation, you should seek to make up for it as soon as possible.

5. You won’t be able to handle stress

Not sleeping and attempting to learn is something that is all too familiar to one segment of the population in particular – students. Lengthy night-time study sessions intended to make up for an entire semester of relaxation might however prove pointless and even harmful.

Exhausted from sleep deprivation, your brain will not be able to recall long-term and complex memories and it will be unsure about short-term ones. This especially happens in a stressful environment, such as an exam room.

Aside from students, celebrities are also particularly vulnerable to sleep deprivation. Their career requires them to undergo short periods of extreme stress – concerts. Singers such as Rihanna or Lady Gaga reportedly have trouble sleeping at night due to their hyperactive minds. As a result, they have often had to cancel public appearances.

Sleep deprivation means pushing your body well beyond its limits. As any highly functioning machine, even an organic one, it can break down from overuse. This can manifest itself in a number of ways. One of them, as we have seen, is memory loss. In turn, this can irreparably affect your body and quality of life.

Author Bio: Alex Moore works as a fulltime writer for SideSleeper Guide. His domains of interest are mainly health and ergonomics-related. If you want to read more from him, go to Twitter@alex_moore01.

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