Effect Of Insomnia: What Sleep Deprivation Does To Your brain?

 Author: Paulami Dam, Junior Research Fellow

At least at a few points of your life, you have experienced some nights where you have spent the entire night in your bed moving around - revolving, twisting and bending. You put an extra effort into sleeping but it never comes to you easily. You stare at the ceilings of your darkroom and repeatedly count how many hours of sleep you have remained in your hands. This fight seems to be real for most of the people of this century. Nevertheless, work pressure, stress and lifestyle are the major culprits as insomnia kicks in.

Effect Of Insomnia: What Sleep Deprivation Does To Your brain?


Do you have a habit of forgetting stuff you're sure you know? Is it challenging for you to focus on difficult tasks? Perhaps… you are most likely not following the routine of 7-9 hours of doctor-recommended sleep. It's a reality that sleep is a basic need and sleep is necessary. It's also evident that sleep is essential for healthy brain function. Sleep has already been proved to be associated with cognition, learning, and memory. Most of us in our life had discovered that we had sometimes a tough recalling and remembering potential when we didn't receive adequate sleep in past nights. Repeated investigations have confirmed the relationship between sound sleep and brain health. Nevertheless, as research has progressed, there's been increasing proof to support a link between chronic insomnia and long-term brain impacts. Sleep deprivation for longer time frames exhibits serious complications. It is linked to neurodegenerative disorders and mental illnesses. Practising proper sleeping habits lowers one's probability of gaining these ailments. So, what are the effects of chronic insomnia on the brain?


As research continued, people with insomnia were reported to have weaker neural connections with the thalamus that controls awareness, sleeping, and vigilance. The insomniacs had reduced white matter integrity at multiple areas of the right brain and thalamus [1]. Interestingly, the thalamus is associated with the body's own biological clock (i.e. circadian rhythm) which regulates 24 hours of sleep-wake pattern and body functions. It can be hypothesized that disruption of healthy brain structure along with the biological clock should be associated with sleeping disorders. Sleep and depression are worsened when neural pathways deteriorate. Nevertheless, researchers found that 3%-5% of adults suffer from primary insomnia i.e. insomnia not linked to underlying health issues [1].


The brain performs a maintenance function i.e. disposal of brain wastes when we are sleeping,  through the glymphatic system. It clears up the insoluble aggregates of misfolded protein deposition; thus regulating the normal ageing mechanism and protecting from neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease. One study found that amyloid-beta aggregates (the protein aggregate often seen in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients) were quantified 5% more in a person having one light of sleeplessness [2]. Hence, it works best when we sleep and sleep deprivation leads to a damaged waste disposal system making the brain vulnerable to severe diseases.

The process behind insomnia and sleep is pretty complex. Other approaches regarding brain function are needed to understand the exact brain circuit of sleep regulation.

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