New brain research indicates importance of adequate sleep

Story and Photos by Megan Conway 

Brain activity and organization compared with adequate sleep (left) and sleep deprived (right

In the photo above, brain activity on the left is more organized due to proper sleep and activity. A sleep deprived brain on the right shows lighter colors, an indicator of disorganized thinking.

Sleep experts say it’s more important than previously thought that we get adequate sleep.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35 percent of adults report getting fewer than seven hours of sleep during a 24-hour period.

Almost 70 percent of high school students report getting less than eight hours of sleep a night. The CDC said about 15 million children in the United States don’t get proper sleep.

Research on sleep deprivation at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Brain Lab has shown the important role proper sleep plays in how effectively people think.

 Lack of sleep causes academics to suffer

“Sleep plays a critical role in thinking and learning,” said Dr. Dennis Molfese of UNL’s Brain Lab.

One of the doctor’s worries is that students don’t realize the negative effects sleep deprivation can have on them and their academic success.

“Lack of sleep hurts these cognitive processes in many ways, said Molfese. “It impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving. This makes it more difficult to learn efficiently.”

Molfese said students pay to attend classes, but many aren’t absorbing all the knowledge because they don’t get proper sleep. Molfese said sleep deprivation make it harder to learn and also affects your memory.

New research at the Brain Lab shows humans must be in a deep sleep for constructive brain events called “sharp wave ripples” to take place. These ripples, said researcher, take the information people learn during the day and store them into their long term memory. Then you can recall that information when you need it tomorrow, in a week, or ten years from now. Without those ripples, the information people thought they learned may be lost.

Medical effects of sleep deprivation

Dr. Lieske of Bryan LGH Sleep Medicine

Dr. Lieske of Bryan LGH Sleep Medicine

Dr. Timothy Lieske of Bryan LGH Sleep Medicine says forgetfulness is not the only thing sleep deprivation causes. People may not take getting the adequate amount of sleep seriously, but it has serious effects.

“Sleep deprivation can lead to heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, weight gain and diabetes,” said Dr. Lieske.

“In today’s world, once people are tired, they try to keep themselves going by adding energy drinks into the equation.”

Energy drinks and sleep deprivation

Energy drinks can help for a short period of time, but may cause you to feel anxious and in fact not be able to concentrate even more than if you were just tired said Dr. Lieske. They also can cause the medical effects of sleep deprivation to be more severe.

According to Packaged Facts, a leading publisher of market research in food and beverage, energy drink sales are expected to skyrocket to $21 billion in sales by 2017. From 2008-2011, the industry saw a 60% increase in their overall market.

“People need to be careful about their consumption of energy or caffeinated drinks,” said Lieske. “It may cause more hurt than help.”


"I try to express to people how serious getting enough sleep is," said Molfese.

"I try to express to people how serious getting enough sleep is," said Molfese.

The best solution according to Dr. Lieske and Molfese is doing whatever it takes for you to relax and get a good night’s rest. If that means turning off your mobile devices so you aren’t bothered, than unplug yourself from the world. If that means cutting down on caffeinated drinks, try to practice self restraint. Breaking bad habits can take some work, but do that on a regular basis and the good effects you will experience might surprise you.

“People are getting so used to living with the feeling of sleep deprivation that some forget what it feels like to actually be well rested and feel good,” said Dr. Lieske.

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