So often, the difficulties we face in trying to embrace and pursue meaningful change in our lives, or simply to accomplish something meaningful, can be tracked back to one of the simplest problems there is to solve.
The lack of sleep.
It’s a fact: sleep deprivation kills performance. Not only that, but lack of sleep kills creativity and memory (especially since it’s during REM sleep, the second sleep cycle, that our brains convert memories from short to long term storage).
In fact, sleep deprivation ends up destroying all higher-processing functions within the brain.
Here’s how that happens (in a nutshell):
When you deprive yourself of sleep, a number of important things happen on a neurobiological level.
Your brain is like a sugar addict. It needs lots of sugar to function. In truth, your brain, while processing, burns up energy (stored in sugars) as much as a fully-flexed quadricep (the largest muscle in your body—in the upper thigh).
As the brain burns through your current supply of blood sugar, it lacks the energy stores it needs to function. So it just doesn’t, or does so at a much-diminished capacity.
It’s why when you’re tired, you crave sugary foods (like donuts and candy). Your brain needs sugar.
It’s been shown that after 24 hours of sleep deprivation, there’s a 6% overall reduction in glucose reaching the brain.
It gets worse. The loss of sugar-assets isn’t equally distributed. Most of the loss is in the parietal lobe and the prefrontal cortex, which suffer a loss of 12 to 14%. Those are the areas most crucial to thinking.
Those areas are responsible for idea discernment, differentiating between good and bad, and similarly, for social control. In fact, it’s much like being drunk.
In fact, Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Charles Czeisler, states, “We now know that 24 hours without sleep or a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%.”
That’s above all legal limits for alcohol while driving. Predictably, 20% of automobile accidents are cause by nothing more than lack of sleep.
That’s right, go a day without sleep or a number of days with reduced sleep, and your cognitive impairment is equal to being legally drunk.
It’s interesting that residency for doctors, a field in which you’d most value peak cognition, is designed to deliver just the opposite due to intentionally inflicted sleep deprivation.
Charles Czeisler calls lack of sleep “The Performance Killer.”
The areas of the brain responsible for the highest order of brain activity is the parietal and occipital lobes, along with the prefrontal cortex. Unfortunately, with sleep deprivation, these areas are the first to suffer.
The reason for this is that the thalamus—the region of the brain responsible for keeping you awake—ends up stealing all of the energy as it works in overdrive to compensate for your lack of sleep.
So all your energy simply goes into staying awake.
An adult needs between 6-8 hours of sleep each night. Less than that and sleep deprivation begins to starve the brain.
So if you care about your brain, your ability to think, and your capacity to employ all your neuronal powers in your efforts to change your life, impact others, or accomplish something meaningful… get some sleep.