The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

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The effects of sleep deprivation (SD) have been studied for over a century and are not only limited to cognitive deficits but whole body deterioration as well. Research has shown that the body reacts to sleep deprivation by affecting gene expression, cellular responses in organs and tissues, and overall homeostatic balance. These result in leaving the body with a greatly increased chance for contracting life threatening illnesses.

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Many studies have been done on animals and humans to further gain a deeper understanding to the many biological effects caused by sleep deprivation. The Center for Disease Control conducted a census for the United States population concerning sleep duration, which showed that 34.9% to 35.5% of adults over the age of 18 in 2014 slept less than 7 hours a night (Sleep-CDC, 2017). This means that a little over a third of Americans are in a state of chronic sleep deprivation.

To understand sleep deprivation and its effects, the basic concept of the sleep cycle and what occurs throughout it must be understood. There are four stages of non rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep followed by one stage of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep totals to five total necessary stages of sleep. The brain’s neuron ability to integrate new memories into long term memories is primarily done in the NREM stages. According to the National Sleep Foundation, during the fourth NREM stage, known as the restorative stage, …the body repairs muscles and tissues, stimulates growth and development, boosts immune function, and builds up energy for the next day (Robbins, 2015). The REM stage of sleep contributes mostly to brain consolidation and information processing, which in turn contributes to learning and memory operations. Two internal biological processes work together to regulate sleep and wake states. They are known as circadian rhythm and sleep-wake homeostasis. Circadian rhythm impacts hormone release, body temperature, digestion, and sleep cycles among other functions. Sleep-wake homeostasis regulates the body’s primal need for sleep by adjusting substances such as adenosine that build up in the cerebrospinal fluid, and that increases with each hour a person is awake, only to be alleviated to lower levels when sleeping takes place (2).

Researchers who conducted a review on the neurobiological consequences of sleep deprivation covered a plethora of issues as sleep deprivation relates to brain function, learning and memory, neurogenesis, inflammatory responses, and cognition related signaling molecules. On the review of brain function as well as learning and memory, past research has shown that as the body continually seeks to reinstate homeostasis by attempting to sleep during forced consciousness, the stress to the system becomes an allostatic load. (Alkadhi, 2013) This is a negative physiological ramification of repeated exposure to stress on the body, causing damage to the various systems within. The allostatic load can cause a modification in the location of the set point for the engagement of homeostasis.

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