What happens to the brain when we can’t sleep?

What’s keeping you from a good night’s sleep? Stress from work? Anxiety over a multitude of things? Sporadic thoughts? Fears both irrational and rational? The list could go on forever. The point here is that a lack of sleep can affect our bodies in many different ways that might surprise you. Sleep disorders are known to cause all sorts of health issues including heart disease and diabetes.

Now that might not scare you that much. Your physical health outside of sleep is great. You work out and eat a healthy diet. But what about your mental health? What about your brain’s functionality? A lack of sleep can affect the brain in so many ways that it’s rather scary to think how little control we have over our brain’s health when we can’t sleep.

So, what happens to your brain when you can’t sleep?

Lack of concentration

Without proper sleep, our brains can’t focus on what’s important – family, church, work, school, chores, etc. When we’re sleepy, focusing on one minimal task can feel like a sacrificial endeavor.

Memory troubles

If you’re noticing that you’re having a harder time remembering short-term things, then it’s possible you’re not getting proper sleep (disclaimer: this is not always a sign of sleep deprivation, but sometimes something more serious. Please see a medical professional for proper diagnosis). Healthline says, “During sleep, pathways form between nerve cells (neurons) in your brain that help you remember new information you’ve learned. Sleep deprivation leaves your brain exhausted, so it can’t perform its duties as well” (Watson and Cherney, 2019).

Heightened mental illness

Anxiety may be keeping you from getting the sleep that you need, but a lack of sleep can actually heighten your anxiety and depression. It’s a vicious circle that won’t stop unless action is taken. That could mean taking a sleep study with a specialist. Luckily, we have that at the Ear, Nose and Throat Institute.

Poor reaction times

Believe it or not, sleep deprivation can have the same – if not worse – effects than being under the influence of alcohol. Does that mean lack of sleep makes you a dangerous driver? Yes. Yes it does. The Sleep Doctor says that, “scientists in that recent study found that sleep deprivation slowed down neural cells’ ability to absorb visual information and translate that visual data into conscious thought. Research shows reaction times are dulled as much by sleeplessness as they are by alcohol” (Breus, 2018). 

That’s a lot to throw at you, I know, but we have a solution. At the Ear, Nose and Throat Institute you can actually get a sleep study to determine if you have a sleep disorder (e.g. sleep apnea). From there we can come up with a solution that will fit your needs and get you back to better health.

For same-day or Saturday appointments call 770-740-1860 or fill out the form at the top of the page. 


Watson, S., Cherney, K. (2019, April 19th) 11 Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Body [Health blog] Retrieved on April 1st, 2020 from https://www.healthline.com/health/sleep-deprivation/effects-on-body#1

Breus, M. PHD. (2018, April 17th) Here’s why you can’t think straight when you’re sleep deprived [Medical journal] Retrieved on April 1st, 2020 from https://thesleepdoctor.com/2018/04/17/heres-why-you-cant-think-straight-when-youre-sleep-deprived/

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