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Where did I put my sleeping pills?

In part three of this five part post series we focus on why insomnia has such a detrimental impact on memory.

It’s not rocket science – insomniacs are not able to attain the same level of concentration as people who have had enough rest. Surprisingly, some people believe that they can have a good attention span on a day when they have had very little sleep the night before. They mistakenly believe that their brain will be as active and as quick to respond. Soon enough they recognise the error in their thought process.

Researchers who study the human mind have discovered that the brain has the ability to change structurally and functionally in response to physical or environmental factors in our life. They have called this phenomenon ‘neuroplasticity‘. The neurones that fire together, wire together!

In most cases, the brain’s plasticity enables us to absorb new information, learn new things, and continue to grow throughout adulthood. But in the case of insomnia, it damages your brain cells and leads to a slowdown of this neuroplasticity. This leads to poor memory retention and lack of focus. Not only in a short-term basis, but in the long term as well. It is challenging enough to hold onto high levels of concentration and memory as you grow older. Insomnia simply makes things worse.

The Brain of The Restless Mind

Research was also done to find out how stress and anxiety affect sleep. The goal was to determine whether a person with a stressful lifestyle developed insomnia as a result of this lifestyle, and how the brain responded to the stress at night. The result: The cognitive function of the brain doesn’t change regardless of whether they have insomnia, or not. However, insomniacs find it more challenging to focus and process information throughout the day.

Most research shows that the mind of insomniacs wanders during the night. They have difficulty concentrating the next day; they face challenges in managing their work, studies and even their personal lives. In other words, the mind will find it more difficult to function optimally the next day and insomniacs are unable to perform at their best. Another part of the research compared memory function and efficiency to complete tasks with insomniacs and also with those who had received sufficient rest.

Even superheroes fail to function properly if they haven’t had enough sleep!

The results showed that insomniacs are not able to recall most of their memories during the day. As a result, they face difficulty in completing their daily tasks. Their minds wander even when they are performing simple tasks. For example, when it came to preparing breakfast, those with a healthy amount of sleep would go to the kitchen, make quick choices, and start their day. On the other hand, those who had suffered from insomnia would enter the kitchen, end up opening more cabinets, looking through more cupboards, and still unable to figure out what they should have for breakfast!

Why? Because an insomniac’s brainwaves are slower, and this causes them to move at a slower pace and forget simple things quickly. Furthermore, as they go on through the day and more tasks build up, their prefrontal cortex will have fewer resources, and the active brainwaves will become erratic. The brain will try to stay active and on point, but it won’t have enough energy to process everything. Therefore, the brain will eventually exhaust itself.

The Grey Matter

The third and final scientific study was to determine the role of the brain’s grey matter. The most important thing to know about the grey matter is that it exists in the frontal lobe and controls the processes of memory and executive function. When insomniacs don’t get enough sleep at night, they will have a substantial decrease in grey matter. Whether they are suffering from full blown insomnia or simply having trouble sleeping temporarily, they will start to develop symptoms of depression or trauma over time. Usually, the underlying cause of insomnia is stress. Reducing the stress by bringing in the resources required to help you through whatever situation you are dealing with (that’s causing the stress) is vital at this point.

Tomorrow – how sleep deprivation affects the human condition.

Don’t miss it.

What do you think?

Written by Scott Williams

Scott Williams is one of Australia's most respected corporate communicators.

Insomnia is a risky business!

Sleep deprivation – the devil in disguise.