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The Importance of Sleep to the Brain and our Psychological Health

By Dr Lynda ShawSleeping Woman


  1. Uninterrupted Sleep

Our brain works at its best – including our concentration, creativity and ability to retain information – when our mind is well rested.  Uninterrupted sleep activates changes in the brain and establishes firmer connections between brain cells thereby transmitting information from one area of the brain to another more efficiently.


  1. Limit Your Working Hours

Forcing your brain to work well into the night and depriving it of sleep is not conducive to career success, nor well-being. Sleep deprivation has been known to lower the immune system and can also affect our mental health, leading to problems such as depression and anxiety.


  1. Early Night

Busy lifestyles and consistent sleep shortage is known to affect blood flow to the brain even causing brain cells to lack necessary oxygen which can contribute to sending our memory into serious decline.


  1. Insomnia

The brain of a patient with chronic insomnia is like someone who is always switched on and ‘wired’.  Compared to good sleepers, neurons have been found to be more ‘excitable’.  This evidently explains why sufferers struggle with sleep because the brain is constantly active.  Some of us are able to train our brains to let us sleep so talk to your GP to see about the various things you can do to help yourself including hypnotherapy.



  1. Electronic Devices

These days, we’re hardly ever without an electronic device within arm’s reach. Detailed studies have shown that light emitted from electrical devices can miscue our brain to assume that we should remain awake.  Keep them in another room when you sleep.


  1. Weight Gain

Some studies suggest as much as 33% of us don’t get as much sleep as we need.  Our hormones can be affected by lack of sleep and it is thought that there is a decrease in a hormone which causes satiety and an increase in a hormone which causes hunger as a result of sleep deprivation.  Be aware that almost certainly when we are tired we can trick ourselves into thinking we need to fuel ourselves with more food to get through the day.


  1. Improved Learning

Studies have shown that those who are well rested are more effective when it comes to learning or problem-solving.  Sleep offers time for the brain to rest with fewer distractions and new things to respond to, with renewed energy helping to process and consolidate information more efficiently.


  1. Safety First

Lack of sleep prevents the mind and body from functioning well throughout the day and can be particularly dangerous for those who are driving.  Sleep deficiency has been known to impair driving ability with similar responses to those who have had too much to drink.


  1. Burning The Midnight Oil

New researchers claim that prolonged awake time can destroy a certain type of brain cell (locus ceruleus) neurons, which is key to controlling our awake and alert state and can even lead to irreversible injury to the brain.


  1. Preserve Emotional Memory

Studies have found that sleep helps us to preserve our greatest memories and downgrade those that are of lesser importance.  Without sufficient sleep, our brains can almost certainly find it more difficult to distinguish between the two.

Dr Lynda Shaw

Dr Lynda Shaw has lectured in Psychology and Neuroscience at Brunel University and conducted research on brain function and impairment, specialising in consciousness, emotion and the effects of ageing

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