You Could Be Sleep Deprived: What It Does and What to Do About It published | 23 July Sleep plays an indispensable role in overall health and wellness. When the body doesn’t get enough rest, the consequences can affect thinking ability, appetite, and your professional and personal relationships. What Happens to Your Body During Sleep Deprivation Even one bad night of sleep can change the mind and body, and prolonged sleep deprivation only causes these changes to worsen. While you sleep, the brain gets to work cleansing itself of toxins while pruning and strengthening connections made during the day. If you’re not getting enough rest or if you frequently wake throughout the night, your critical-thinking skills, decision-making abilities, and reaction times all slow down because the brain isn’t getting the time it needs for self-maintenance. Your body also changes how it controls appetite when tired. The body releases more of the hunger hormone ghrelin and less of the satiety hormone leptin, leaving you hungrier and less full. Not only do you feel hungrier but the body craves high-fat snacks and sugary treats because the reward center of the brain gets a bigger “hit” from those foods when you’re tired. It becomes difficult to maintain your physical health without enough sleep. Certain areas of the brain also begin to function differently when sleep deprived. The amygdala, which processes emotions, becomes more sensitive to negative thoughts while the prefrontal cortex, which applies higher reasoning to feelings becomes less active. Consequently, irritability, aggression, sadness, and anger can have more influence on your daily interactions. Maintaining both professional and personal relationships becomes harder due to the emotional changes that take place during sleep deprivation. Make a Change for Better Sleep While sleep may be a necessary biological function, that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy. There are many environmental factors as well as personal habits and behaviours that can be altered to affect your sleep positively. The bedroom and everything in it should support healthy sleep. For example, a comfortable mattress with breathability and support eliminates physical discomforts and distractions. Blackout curtains and noise absorbing decor that keep light and sound to a minimum can help reduce wakefulness or waking too early. You can also develop habits that support healthy sleep like: Keeping a Consistent Sleep-Wake Schedule: The body loves a consistent schedule because it allows it to follow natural 24-hour cycles called circadian rhythms. When you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, you give your body a chance to adjust and strengthen its response to these cycles. Developing a Regular Bedtime Routine: Routines help the brain know when to time the release of sleep hormones. A bedtime routine can also help relieve stress and calm the mind. Reading a book, meditation, and taking a warm bath are all bedtime routine favourites because of their relaxing effects. Regularly Spaced and Timed Meals: Try to eat your meals at roughly the same time every day and keep them evenly spaced throughout the day. Meal timing and spacing plays a role in the proper timing of the sleep-wake cycle. Shut Off Your Screens: Televisions and other electronic devices can give off a blue light that suppresses sleep hormones. You can either shut them off two to three hours before bed or turn on the low blue light setting if the device has one. Everyone will have a sleepless night now and then. However, if the problem becomes chronic, you can take steps to improve your chances of getting a full night’s rest. About the Author: Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. Her preferred research topics are health and wellness, so Amy’s a regular reader of Scientific American and Nature. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.