Why Sleep Deprivation is Hurting Your Brain

Image of a clock held by someone in bed highlighting the importance of a regular sleep schedule and routine for a better night's sleep.

If you are having trouble remembering things, it’s probably because you are not sleeping enough. You’re not the only one, 33% of Briton’s suffer from poor sleep. Sleep deprivation itself isn’t a disease but a byproduct of other illnesses or conditions such as depression or general poor health. It simply refers to not getting enough sleep.

According to the NHS, the general guideline is every adult should seek 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. This number can slightly vary, but if you wake up tired or have a tough time getting through your day without needing a nap, you did not sleep enough.


Image of a clock held by someone in bed highlighting the importance of a regular sleep schedule and routine for a better night's sleep.

Sleep deprivation impacts our bodies and mind in multiple ways. Experiencing poor sleep on a regular basis puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as shortening one’s life expectancy.

If you think that’s frightening, the most harmful effects of sleep deprivation may be its impact on our brains. You may notice that after a poor night of sleep, you are unable to complete simple tasks or maintain concentration. That’s due to the cognitive impairments produced by poor sleep.


Studies show that people exposed to sleep loss typically experience a decline in cognitive performance and suffer from general moodiness. Cognitive performance is a broad term but it refers to the completion of tasks that require visual, verbal, auditory, or other skills.

One explanation for cognitive decline is the connection of sleep to our level of alertness and attention as well as our reactions. If we sleep less than the recommended amount of time, our brains are less focused and sharp. Imagine staring at an assignment and not being able to concentrate.

Not only are you unable to focus but you won’t be able to complete the task at hand and then proceed to be in a bad mood.


People who sacrifice sleep because they stay up to complete work or study for an exam do not realize they are doing more harm than good. It might feel rewarding to pull an all-nighter to perfect that presentation for work or study for that chemistry exam, but your brain will not retain the information you spent so much time cramming into your head.

Since you are already sleep-deprived and not able to concentrate, you are unable to retain information so will be less likely to recall it. Additionally, sleep is essential for long-term memory consolidation which is key for learning new information.

When our brains are not operating properly we are more at risk for accidents and injuries, our decision-making is impaired which can lead to mistakes, and our judgment is negatively affected. Sleep is necessary for optimal brain health as it will keep our neuron firing properly, our muscles rested and, most importantly, our minds at their sharpest.


Sleep is so pivotal for our health. It boosts our immunity, lowers our risk of disease, and improves our mental wellbeing. When we are constantly looking for new ways to live a healthy lifestyle, we must start with a place where we spend on average 26 years of our life. Yes, 26 years is the amount of time in our lifetime we spend sleeping and add another 7 years we spend trying to sleep.


 Want your brain to remember more things, sleep better. Sounds easy but getting those much needed 8 hours is tough, hence why we donate 7 years of our life twisting and turning. Here are some easy tips to help you:


●      Have a regular sleep schedule. It’s important to go to bed and wake up and roughly the same time every day. Our bodies love consistency and routine, once we establish a sleep routine, it is nearly impossible to break it!

●      Set the ideal temperature! The Sleep Foundation recommends a room temperature of 65°F (18.3°C). This will help cool down your body and set the right environment for a restful night of sleep.

●      Exercise. Regular exercise has shown to reduce insomnia and promote sleep.

●      Limit screen time before bedtime. Who isn’t addicted to their phones or tablets or laptops or basically anything emitting light? However, this light harms our ability to fall asleep as our minds are tricked into thinking it’s still day. Want better sleep, put away the electronics at least 30 minutes before bed.


Written by Tariq Ahmed
University of College London | 2019
MSc Global Health & Development