Thursday, February 5, 2015

Is Lack of Sleep Changing Your Brain?

There are some downsides to being tired that you're already familiar with: A lack of sleep makes most people look and feel like garbage. But there's some other nasty stuff going on in your body when you don't get good rest—and you may not even be aware of it.

Poor sleep impacts your brain in a way that makes it harder to form new memories. Maybe you saw that earlier this week we wrote about a gene that quite possibly makes you a superhuman because it's associated with functioning well on little sleep. The following awesome analogy is for all of you who don't have that gene: Your brain is kind of like a highway, with long brain waves (cars!) that move new information (passengers!) to the prefrontal cortex, where short memories are converted into longterm ones. I'd come up with another analogy, but I'm just too tired, and I wish I was just saying that to be cute.

Anyway, all of that happens when you sleep, says Matthew Walker, who studies sleep and memory at the University of California, Berkley. "The slow, long brain waves are associated with deep sleep," he says. "So where memory is concerned, research suggests the quality of sleep you get is just as important as the number of hours." Poor quality sleep happens when you go to bed drunk or stressed, but we also just experience less deep sleep as we age. "The change can happen as early as 30," he says.

If you're thinking that all of this explains a lot, there are way to promote deeper sleep. Like, thinking more. Because the more you tire your brain out during the day (by writing in a journal, reading a book, learning a new language, etc.), the more long brain waves and deeper sleep it will have at night, says Walker. If you forgot to exercise your brain, it also helps to take a warm bath right before bed. See? Soothing!

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