How Sleep Debt Seriously Damages Your Brain And Relationship: Overnight & In The Long Run


junio 25, 2020 6:54 am

Sleep deprivation affects more than just your morning mood, it negatively interferes with your  physical, mental and emotional health. Sleep is one of the most essential functions of the human body, and substantially more important than any other human needs. Say you decide to fast, how do you feel after 24 hours? After a few […]

Sleep deprivation affects more than just your morning mood, it negatively interferes with your  physical, mental and emotional health. Sleep is one of the most essential functions of the human body, and substantially more important than any other human needs.

Say you decide to fast, how do you feel after 24 hours? After a few days? You’ll be thinner and hungry, but you’ll still be able to function. Think of the last time you had a poor night of sleep, how did you feel the next day? Now, imagine you deprive yourself of sleep for a few days. You’ll be completely unable to function, you’ll start to hallucinate, you’ll experience muscle ache, your anxiety increases, you’ll be completely unable to think clearly, and the list goes on…

We’ve got billions of neural cells that allows us to make decisions, process information, focus, learn and retain information, and sleep deprivation impairs our brain function at a cellular level; as well as increases your risk of developing neurodegenerative conditions and can seriously damage your relationship.

Risky Behaviour & Impaired Judgement

The prefrontal cortex (an area responsible for logical reasoning and complex thought) is  extremely vulnerable to sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep can have similar effects to being drunk; both produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance.

You’re more likely to be impulsive rather than thinking rationally.

Sleep deprivation also decreases self-control, and increases hostility, which can have consequences on your relationships, health, finances, and work.

Overworked Neurons = Exhausted Brain

Memory consolidation is the process of converting short-term memories into long-term ones. 

Sleep is a coordinator of info processing; the mind integrates new information acquired during the day into memory and processes it by making essential connections. Sleep deprivation leaves your brain exhausted; overworked neurons can’t coordinate information properly and blocks access to previous learned information.

REM and SLOW WAVE SLEEP move electrical impulses between the brain stem, hippocampus, thalamus and cortex. They serve as a relay stations for memory formation. When you sleep, your brain takes the information from your short term memory and moves the important bits to the long term memory.

Our novel description of a pathway through which sleep deprivation impacts memory consolidation highlights the importance of the neuronal cell network’s ability to adapt to sleep loss. What is perhaps most striking is that these neuronal connections are restored with several hours of recovery sleep. Thus, when subjects have a chance to catch up on much-needed sleep, they are rapidly remodeling their brain.

eLife. “How sleep deprivation harms memory.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 August 2016.

Overreacting = More Fight With Your Spouse

Insufficient sleep disrupted the connection between the medial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala (the part of the brain associated with processing emotional information).

When we are sleep deprived, the prefrontal cortex shows less activity, whereas the amygdala goes into overdrive, thus inappropriately modulates the emotional brain response to negative aversive stimuli.

Mood is decreased and anxiety increases, making us more prone to react more intensely and negatively to situations. Unwittingly, you might pick fights with your partner over things that aren’t really a big deal. Truth to be told, when you’re fighting about the socks on the floor or the almost empty carton milk, it’s really just the amygdala that takes over.

Think of it like a tired toddler throwing a tantrum, it’s not rational & you can’t reason with it :’)

Diminished Sense Of Gratitude

Sleep deprivation makes for ungrateful partners, even if you aren’t lacking sleep yourself. A study from University of California, Berkeley, found that it takes only one person to be short on sleep for both partners to feel a decreased sense of gratitude towards each other.

Gratitude is crucial for a happy relationship. It helps relationships thrive by promoting a cycle of generosity, you’re more thoughtful and responsive to your partner’s needs, and your partner feels appreciated.

Toxic Build-Up Results In Neurological Disorders

During the day, the brain produces ‘’neurogarbage’’. When you sleep, the brain works to remove the neurogarbage via the glymphatic system, A.K.A. ‘’the brain waste clearance system’’. Insufficient sleep leads to toxic build up which increases your risk of developing neurodegenerative conditions.

There are a 3 types of neurogarbage that needs to be flushed out: adenosine, beta-amyloid and alpha-synuclein.

1. Adenosine

When your neurons (and other cells) burn up adenosine triphosphate (the primary energy carrier that stores the energy that we need to do basically everything), it builds up adenosine.

The amount of adenosine produced in the brain is a result of the activity level of its neurones (the cells within the nervous system that process and transmit information) and glial cells (what helps the neurones of the central nervous system to function properly.) Prolonged neural activity of being awake causes adenosine levels to go up, which your body responds by sending you signals that it’s time to sleep (yawn, feeling drowsy, blurry vision, etc).

BobThePug demonstrating what happens when your adenosine increases.

2. Beta-amyloid

Beta-amyloid is a toxic protein in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease. During REM sleep, slow waves of electrical activity in the brain prevents potential damage to your brain cells by flushing the neurogarbage. Sleep deprivation results in the beta-amyloid to build up. 

It’s critical to remember that patients with neurological disorders don’t create more neurogarbages than others, they simply aren’t flushing it out enough.

3. Alpha-synuclein

A protein that’s mostly abundant in the brain. The main functions of alpha-synuclein remain unclear but we do know it’s associated with the regulation of the release of dopamine (which plays a vital role in reward and movement regulation in the brain).

In Parkinson’s disease, there’s a buildup of toxic forms of the alpha-synuclein protein within nerve cells or neurons, causing clumps. There’s a disruption in the dopamine pathways of the brain. When the alpha-synuclein builds up in the brain, it forms toxic clumps or reactive aggregates, which causes damage to cellular components. 

My grand-father developed Parkinson. It’s a sneaky disease; it got really bad, really fast. For a long time, he worked night shifts, and sleep during the day which disrupts the circadian rhythm but I’ll go in details in another post. I can’t help but wonder if his Parkinson could’ve been prevented simply by having a good night of sleep…

My maternal grand-father Claude Boucher, suffered from Parkinson in his final years


A missed night of sleep is a fairly common experience for many. Sometimes it’s because you’re having fun with your friends (birthday’s, New Years, etc), sometimes it’s because of your obligations (studying all night, working late, you’re a parent, etc) and sometimes it’s because it’s difficult to fall asleep (long flight overseas, insomnia, etc).

Whether you sleep less than 7 hours of sleep, or not at all, both results in an accumulation of sleep debt which negatively impacts your physical, mental and emotional health overnight and in the long-run.

Sleeping is the ultimate and cheapest investment towards making better decisions, being healthier and happier. So, appreciate the benefits of sleep instead of feeling guilty for ‘’wasting 8 hours of your life’’, and get snoozing for the sake of your health and relationship!


Saletin, J. M., Goldstein-Piekarski, A. N., Greer, S. M., Stark, S., Stark, C. E., & Walker, M. P. (2016). Human Hippocampal Structure: A Novel Biomarker Predicting Mnemonic Vulnerability to, and Recovery from, Sleep Deprivation. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience36(8), 2355–2363. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3466-15.2016

Bjorness, T. E., & Greene, R. W. (2009). Adenosine and sleep. Current neuropharmacology7(3), 238–245. https://doi.org/10.2174/157015909789152182

Stefanis L. (2012). α-Synuclein in Parkinson’s disease. Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in medicine2(2), a009399. https://doi.org/10.1101/cshperspect.a009399

L. Peter-Derex. (2019). Sleep And Memory Consolidation, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0987705319301236#!

Harvard Medical School Division Of Sleep Medicine.(2007) Sleep, Learning and Memory, http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory

Sara B. Algoe, Shelly L. Gable, Natalya C. Maisel (2010) It’s the little things: Everyday gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1475-6811.2010.01273.x

Ehsan Shokri-Kojori, Gene-Jack Wang, Corinde E. Wiers, Sukru B. Demiral, Min Guo, Sung Won Kim, Elsa Lindgren, Veronica Ramirez, Amna Zehra, Clara Freeman, Gregg Miller, Peter Manza, Tansha Srivastava, Susan De Santi, Dardo Tomasi, Helene Benveniste, and Nora D. Volkow (2018)B-Amyloid accumulation in the human brain after one night of sleep deprivation https://www.pnas.org/content/115/17/4483

University of California-Berkeley, (2019) Disrupted sleep in one’s 50s, 60s raises risk of Alzheimer’s disease https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190627114105.htm

Sleep drives metabolite clearance from the adult brain. Science. 2013 Oct 18;342(6156):373-7. doi: 10.1126/science.1241224. PMID: 24136970.

Natalie L. Hauglund, Chiara Pavan, Maiken Nedergaard, (2019) Cleaning the sleeping brain- the potential restorative function of the glymphatic system https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2468867319301609

University of California-Berkeley,(2013) Poor sleep can leave romantic parner’s feeling unappreciated https://news.berkeley.edu/2013/01/19/sleep-couples/

Krause, A. J., Simon, E. B., Mander, B. A., Greer, S. M., Saletin, J. M., Goldstein-Piekarski, A. N., & Walker, M. P. (2017). The sleep-deprived human brain. Nature reviews. Neuroscience18(7), 404–418. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn.2017.55

Williamson A, Feyer A. Moderate Sleep Deprivation Produces Impairments in Cognitive and Motor Performance Equivalent to Legally Prescribed Levels of Alcohol Intoxication. Occup Environ Med. 2000 October; 57(10): 649–655.

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