Sleep Deprived?

As a graduating college student one has time to look back and reflect on many things. Although the intended goal of college is to nurture one’s thirst for knowledge, gain critical thinking skills, and to improve one’s connection to society, it inadvertently harms its students. Most college students at Colby College, are not just students, they are athletes, leaders, and general active members of society. On paper this ability to be well-rounded helps the people excel, but this active involvement also harms those people. There never seems to be enough time in the day for one to juggle academics, leadership positions, clubs, sports, and sleep all while trying to remain a social being.  Usually an aspect of one’s life has to take the back burner to excel in the other aspects, and sleep is usually placed in the back burner. The amount of college students who usually run on less than 6 hours of sleep is alarming. Some people go multiple days with only 2-3 hours of sleep.

Sleep, although often neglected, is vital to make sure proper neural cognition, and to regenerate cells/tissues/neurons. There is grand consensus that missing out on proper sleep, or attempting to train your body to work on limited amount of sleep is so negative for the body, especially the brain. Research has looked into the effects of sleep deprivation on motor cognition, memory, and speech, specifically the processing of language.

In the cerebral cortex the temporal lobe is the site associated with processing language, this was ascertained from verbal learning tests done while simultaneously observing the activity of the brain region using a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan(fMRI). It was shown that in sleep deprived people performing the visual test the temporal lobe was not active at all. But, in people who were severely sleep deprived are still able to do the verbal learning test to some degree. This allowed researchers to wonder how or why this occurs even though there is no activity within the temporal lobe. Using fMRI researchers were able to show that the parietal lobe in sleep deprived people were active in verbal learning tests to attempt to compensate for the inactive temporal speech regions. Because it is not the parietal lobe’s usual responsibility to deal with speech it, so it is not adept at it. The parietal lobe is adept at short-term memory, which can give evidence to support why sleep deprived people have better short term memory than their rested counterparts. The parietal lobe is more active in sleep deprived people.

When thinking of how sleep deprivation affects an person an important part is how the brain creates a sense of self, termed I-function. The prefrontal cortex has been linked in the connection to the I-function. In sleep deprived people the pre-frontal cortex is usually more active. The prefrontal cortex is regenerated in the first stages of sleep allowing people to feel refreshed after a quick nap.

“REM sleep stimulates areas of the brain used for learning and memory. When a person is taught a new skill his or her performance does not improve until he or she receives at least eight hours of sleep. An extended period of sleep ensures that the brain will be able to complete the full sleep cycle, including REM sleep. The necessity of sleep for learning could be due to the fact that sleep increases the production of proteins while reducing the rate at which they are broken down. Proteins are used to regenerate the neurons within the brain. Without them new synapses may not be able to be formed, thus limiting the amount of information a sleep-deprived person can maintain.” (S.L. 2008)

 Sleep deprivation over prolonged periods of time can also lead to death, because other parts of the body weakens along the brain. The immune system weakens the longer one goes without sleep, causing the number of white blood cells available to be decreased. Also, the amount of growth hormone produced by the body, and the body’s ability to metabolize sugar decreases.

Sleep deprivation has a great impact on our body, health, and well-being. Some of the damages caused by sleep deprivation may be long lasting, but even with that knowledge people every day push sleep aside as if it is not important. For college students it may seem sleep is not always one’s first priority, but it needs to be.


3 thoughts on “Sleep Deprived?

  1. I find the assertion that sleep-deprived people have better short term memory than those who are well rested hard to believe. I understand that the author is making the claim that although the temporal lobe is inactive during sleep, the parietal lobe still functions. However, the claim that the parietal lobe is MORE active in sleep deprived people is a difficult idea to grasp due to the common assumption that sleep is vital to every brain process. However, this article prompted further research on my part where I found that this seemingly non-sensical idea is in fact true! The parietal lobe has increased activity in sleep deprived subjects which results in better short term memory consolidation. This could be due to the brain’s lack of sleep resulting in a need for increased activity in the parietal lobe to make up for the lack of activity in the temporal lobe.


  2. The idea that REM sleep is necessary in order to improve a learned skill is an interesting concept, but one that I think requires further research. For example, people who take antidepressants on a regular basis are ingesting MAOI’s and SSRI’s, which block REM sleep. Yet, even after years of being on these drugs, they don’t show an inability to learn new things. Perhaps they reach a lower ceiling of learning than people who enter REM sleep normally? What I found really interesting about this post is that sleep deprivation can lead to a decrease in the immune system. I found many articles supporting this theory, and one concluded that sleep deprivation leads to an upregulation of inflammatory cytokines associated with gastrointestinal diseases like inflammatory bowl disease and colorectal cancer (Choe, 2013).

    Choe, A., Awab, A., Wagener, T., Orr, W. “Sleep, immunity and inflammation in gastrointestinal disorders.” World J Gastroenterol. 2013 Dec;19(48):9231-9.


  3. It was interesting to see how different parts of the brain compensate for the inactivity in another region. I would have never thought that the parietal lobe would take over some of the visual processing from the temporal lobe in sleep-deprived people. There wasn’t any information in this post about how many hours of sleep constitutes sleep-deprivation, or severe sleep deprivation.
    If we create a sense of self, termed the I-function wouldn’t we protect ourselves from harmful activities such as sleep deprivation? What region of the brain is overriding the I-function? If the prefrontal cortex is more active in sleep-deprived people one would expect their I-function to be slightly skewed and less able to restrain detrimental behavior.


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