There are plenty of reasons why we might have a lack of sleep in our lifetime. Taking care of new babies, working shifts or living in a noisy neighbourhood can all ruin our forty winks. A recent study has shown that chronic sleep deprivation can cause lasting damage to your brain. So, how can we improve our sleep for good?

Breaking down the brain

Neurologist Michele Bellesi of the Marche Polytechnic University conducted a study on the brains of sleep-deprived mice. The team measured the activity of glial cells in their brains. These cells ‘clean up’ the brain’s synapses and expose damaged cells and debris. They found that the glial cells were active in 6% of synapses in well-rested mice – less than half of that in a sleep deprived mice who had a glial cell activity in 13.5% of their brains’ synapses.

While this may sound like the sleep-deprived mice had squeaky clean brains, it leads to a slightly more damaging outcome. This same type of overactive glial cell behaviour is present in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. So, it is thought that continuous or ‘chronic’ sleep deprivation can be a contributing factor to these illnesses later in life.

Woman stirring her tea with phone

Reactions, Emotions and Memory

In addition to potential lasting damage, lack of sleep usually has immediate effects, too. It’s harder to control your mood meaning you usually become more sensitive to things which usually wouldn’t bother you. This is because the amygdala (the area of the brain that controls emotion) becomes overactive when you don’t get enough sleep. It means your reactions and emotions are heightened and less controllable.

Read more: How Does Your Mood Affect Your Sleep?

Your memory can also become altered due to the change in function of your hippocampus. The Independent says:

‘Just one bad night’s sleep impairs the hippocampus, which is the critical region for storing new memories. This means people struggle to remember new pieces of information.’

So, if you wake up feeling disorientated and manage to pack a tub of butter rather than your lunch, it’s probably down to your sleep the night before.

Woman sleeping in a dark room

Improving your sleep

To improve your sleep, you first need to decipher what’s causing the problems. Something as simple as light coming through the window or living on a busy road can wake you up. The best way to ensure a good quality sleep is by preparing yourself for bed and giving yourself the ideal sleep space. Here are some tips to remember:

  • Ensure your mattress, pillows and bedding are comfortable for you. Use our bed and mattress guide for more help.
  • Shut off all light sources and get some blackout curtains for ultimate peace.
  • If you live in a noisy environment, invest in a white noise machine or ear plugs.
  • Get yourself a proper bedtime routine. Follow these relaxation techniques or do some yoga to help you unwind before you get your head down.

Visit our Sleep Problems section for more advice on how to avoid a lack of sleep!