Behavioral Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep is vital to human life. Sleep regenerates certain parts of the body, most critically, the brain. In the rush of todays society, in which every corner is often cut in order to accomplish more and more, it would serve us well to take a closer look at just how important sleep is to our lives.

We need to consider if were gaining anything, if not actually losing, when we try to do twice as much with half as much sleep.

With Muscles, Not So Bad; With the Brain, A Big No-No

The regeneration of muscles occurs even when we are not actually sleeping, but merely resting without losing consciousness. Neurons in the brain, however, begin malfunctioning after abnormally long periods of wakefulness. The malfunction of these neurons in the brain can and do affect behavior.

Specific stages of sleep rejuvenate cerebral cortex neurons, while the formation of new memories and the generation of new synaptic connections are functions performed by other sleep stages. Tests that evaluate the effects of sleep deprivation on our behavior have been done to determine activity in different areas of the cerebral cortex.

Temporal Lobe Malfunctions

Temporal lobe activity, the area of the cerebral cortex involved with language processing, shows up during testing as being very active when test subjects have had adequate sleep. Subject who have been deprived of sleep, however, indicate no activity in this area of the brain. The most pronounced and obvious behavioral effect is slurred speech in the sleep-deprived test subjects.

Verbal learning is another behavior affected by lack of sleep. Although even those severely deprived of sleep can still perform on tests in this area, they do not score nearly as high as those who are fully rested.

One interesting note: The brain actually begins using another part of itself to make up for the lack of activity in the temporal lobe. The part it uses is called the parietal lobe and its use actually makes short-term memory better in sleep-deprived test subjects than those who have had enough quality sleep.

The parietal lobe portion of the cerebral cortex is associated with memory, so it is thought that since this brain area is already awake in sleep-deprived individuals, new synapses are more easily created, which serves to explain the resultant better short-term memory processes. The completion of math problems, another function of the parietal lobes, is another area in which people who have not gotten adequate sleep can still perform, yet do so poorly.

Effects on the Frontal Lobe

The frontal lobe of sleep-deprived persons is yet another area of the brain that suffers. Creative thinking seems to be significantly reduced. Subjects have problems delivering statements, coming up with novel words or ideas, and often also stutter, slur their speech, speak in a monotone, or speak markedly slower than normal.

Impairment within the prefrontal lobe (part of the frontal lobe) of sleep-deprived individuals shows poor judgment, loss of impulse control, shorter attention span, and a lack of proper visual association. Hallucinations invariably occur after a bout of prolonged lack of sleep.

Since we are discussing here only behavioral effects of sleep deprivation, it is only marginally appropriate to mention that after extremely long prolonged sleep deprivation, eventually death can occur, but that should be taken into serious consideration, regardless.

These are just a few things that can happen to us, behaviorally and otherwise, when we don’t experience the full, regenerative effects of a good nights sleep. Its important in more ways than most of us can even imagine to do a very simple thing; get enough sleep.