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The brain on no sleep

Sleep is essential for humans, as it, in a nutshell, repairs the body and allows it to recharge. Humans rely on sleep to function properly and when sleep deprived, both the brain and the body are negatively impacted. Sleep is constantly pushed aside by people, as sometimes work or school obligations disrupt a healthy sleep schedule.

In school, students from a young age are taught to constantly put sleep aside to be able to finish their tasks. Teenagers and growing children require several hours of sleep for development, so what may happen if they do not get enough sleep?

Teenagers and sleep

Teenagers from 14-17 years of age should be getting 8-10 hours of sleep and children ages 6-13 should be getting 9-11 hours of sleep. Research has found that children simply sleeping one hour less than the recommended amount can have trouble concentrating in the classroom and decreased overall mental and physical health, leading to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and poor academic performance.

Around 40% of Americans do not get enough sleep and this number has only been increasing over the years. An exponentially more busy and demanding lifestyle can disrupt one’s sleep schedule and end up causing health issues related to sleep deprivation.

How does sleep work?

Sleep is a cycle, divided into four different stages. The first three stages are called non–rapid eye movement (NREM) while the last stage is called rapid eye movement (REM). This cycle will repeat for the entirety of the night several times, as each cycle lasts for, on average, 90-120 minutes.

During the first NREM stage which lasts several minutes, one transitions from being awake to being asleep. Heart rate, eye movements, breathing, and brain waves slow down and muscles relax.

During the second NREM stage, heart rate, brain waves, and breathing slow down, muscles relax and eye movement completely stops and body temperature decreases. During this stage, which is the longest, deep sleep will be reached.

During the third NREM stage, heartbeat, brain waves, and breathing slow down the most and muscles relax even more. This stage decreases in length through the night and it is of great importance to make one feel well-rested the next day.

During the last phase of sleep, the only REM phase, the eye will move quickly under the eyelids and heart rate, breathing, brain waves, and blood pressure will slowly increase. The REM phase will start 90 minutes after you begin to sleep and it will increase through the night. Studies have shown that REM sleep is linked to memory consolidation and dreams.

How does sleep affect the body?

Sleep affects several systems in the body, ranging from your circulatory system to your immune system. It affects the circulatory system and the heart because during sleep, both blood pressure and heart rate fall, something that helps regulate blood pressure since high blood pressure or heart rate may cause heart disease, heart attacks, or even strokes. Your metabolism is also affected by sleep, as studies have shown that if you don't get enough of it, levels of hormones that control hunger may increase while the insulin response may decrease, leading to several health conditions. If you do not sleep enough, you are more prone to colds and illnesses, as certain immune cells work the hardest while one is asleep.

Besides affecting the body physically, sleep also has mental impacts. Sleep assists in the creation of long-term memories, therefore sleep deprivation can lead to a struggle in remembering and focusing, slow reaction time, and poor mental health. Slow reaction time and reduced focus can lead to road accidents, since a person may not have been able to respond to what was happening, and reduced academic performance, as a student may be struggling to concentrate and retain information.

How can we optimise sleep?

In order to feel well rested the next day, it is important to not only get enough sleep, but also quality sleep. Creating a sleep-inducing bedroom, a well structured sleep schedule, a pre-sleep routine and correct habits during the day can all help to improve quality of sleep and help combat sleep problems, such as insomnia.

By finding a comfortable temperature, reducing noise and dimming bedroom lights around bed time, falling asleep quicker is easier, thus increasing hours of sleep. By reducing light, one’s circadian rhythm, one of the body’s internal clocks, is better regulated, improving sleep quality.

It is important to set a sleep schedule and stick to it even during the weekends in order to help the body get used to it. When fixing a sleep schedule, it is important to do it gradually, moving it one to two hours at a time. Avoiding naps longer than twenty minutes during the day is important to not mess up one’s sleep schedule and prevent not being able to fall asleep when needed. The best time to take a nap is considered to be in the afternoon after lunch.

Eating habits are also highly related to sleep, as it is important to reduce caffeine intake close to bedtime since it can prevent sleep and disrupt one’s sleep schedule. Avoiding intense exercise before going to sleep is important, given that exercise can stop the brain from calming down. Furthermore, avoiding doing other day time activities besides sleeping on your bed is highly advised, as the brain then associates the bed with other activities, therefore it is harder to fall asleep and not think about other tasks.

For students, it is common to have a sleep schedule dictated by the amount of schoolwork, however it is important to have a consistent sleep schedule in order to live a healthy life. By not using electronic devices before sleeping, blue light emissions, a type of light that can inhibit sleep, are reduced, therefore one is able to fall asleep quicker. It is important to be organised and have a consistent workflow in order to be able to do work before the deadline and at the same time, get enough sleep.

Sleep apps can also be used in order to improve sleep quantity and quality, as it tracks sleep patterns and provides information about the user’s sleep through a heart rate monitor and movement monitor. Several sleep apps are able to aid the user in identifying areas in which they can work to improve quality of sleep and alongside that, provide guided meditation sessions or calming sounds, which can help one fall asleep quicker.


Several people around the whole world suffer from sleep deprivation and its consequences, as they are not able to reach the recommended amount of sleep per night. This can lead to the detriment of both physical and mental health. Teenagers and children are in crucial stages of their lives where sleep is of high importance to be able to grow and fully develop, however, many teenagers and children are forced to put sleep aside to be able to finish tasks and homework.

In the modern world, the importance of sleep is overlooked by many, as being able to finish work or tasks is considered to be more important. The way the world is structured leads many to think that way, nonetheless, sleep should be considered a priority.



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