The Impact Of Sleep Disorders On The Brain

The Impact Of Sleep Disorders On The Brain

Sleep occurs due to the release of melatonin (a hormone released from the pineal gland of the brain) in the absence of light. Therefore, night sleep is natural sleep and normal sleep lasts for seven to nine hours during nights.

Sleep should start between nine and eleven at night and the normal waking time should be from five to seven in the morning. Dreams during sleep are also natural. Normal sleep occurs without the aid of sleeping pills and is very important for one’s health, including brain health. Moreover, the brains of people with sound sleep function better.

Adverse Effects Of Sleeping Pills

The topic of sleep disorders cannot be complete without the mention of sleeping pills. Sedatives and hypnotics (drugs used as sleep aids) are commonly used and abused. They are associated with several health hazards such as:

  • Poor attention and concentration
  • Poor memory
  • Increased risk of falls causing fractures and head injurie
  • Increased risk of cancers, heart diseases, and even death

Sleep Disorders And Brain Functioning

Sleep disorders have several adverse effects on brain functions, so here are some common sleep disorders.


Insomnia refers to inadequate sleep. Common features of insomnia include difficulty in falling sleep (it takes too long to fall asleep after lying down on the bed), lesser sleep duration (less than seven hours of sleep per night), frequent awakenings during sleep (fragmented sleep), early awakening from sleep and feeling exhausted after waking up. Here are the various adverse effects insomnia has on brain functions:

Impaired Attention Span And Concentration:
Patients who are sleep-deprived have lower levels of attention and concentration the next day which hampers their functional ability. Therefore, they take longer to finish their work. In addition, they are more prone to make errors. The most harmful impact could be seen during driving. Drivers who are sleep deprived, make more errors while driving, causing more accidents.

Impaired Memory:
Consolidation of memory occurs during sleep. Insomnia over a shorter duration could lead to impaired short-term memory. On the other hand, insomnia over an extended period of time can adversely affect long-term memory too. People with insomnia could also have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Increased Levels Of Anxiety:
Anxiety and sleep are interrelated, as anxious people can suffer from insomnia. At the same time, people with insomnia have higher levels of anxiety and stress.

Increased Anger And Irritability:
People with insomnia find it difficult to control anger and easily lose their temper. They are irritable and find it more difficult to enjoy life.

Increased Risk Of Stroke:
As per a study conducted in Taiwan, people with insomnia have a 54 per cent higher risk of stroke. This risk is highest among the younger individuals (aged 18 to 34 years).

Inadequate sleep causes an increased incidence of all headaches, especially migraines; inadequate sleep is a well-known trigger of migraine attacks.

Trigger For A Seizure Attack:
Inadequate sleep can precipitate a seizure in a person with epilepsy. Therefore, people with epilepsy are advised to maintain a healthy sleep schedule.


This is a potentially dangerous sleep disorder. People with OSA have repeated episodes of short-duration stoppage of breathing during sleep, leading to disturbed sleep. This results in poor sleep during nights and increased daytime sleepiness. People with OSA also have snoring, disturbing the sleep of their partners too. OSA is a major health hazard which increases the risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, heart attacks and strokes.


Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder characterized by the sudden and abrupt onset of sleep, even during day time. The person affected with narcolepsy can feel sleepy without any warning. These sleep episodes can occur several times per day and last for a short duration. These episodes occur despite the person sleeping well at nights and can lead to falls as well as motor vehicle accidents.

Some people with narcolepsy can also have sleep paralysis, whereby they are unable to move their arms or legs for a short duration. Another feature of narcolepsy is cataplexy, where the person suddenly loses the tone in their muscles and may fall.


People with Restless Legs Syndrome have a constant urge to move their legs to get rid of the discomfort in their legs (the discomfort is described as ache, pain, itchy sensation, etc.) The discomfort is more common during periods of rest and quiet (such as during desk work, sitting, trying to sleep, watching a movie, etc.) RLS symptoms are more common during nights and are associated with insomnia. People with BLS also have a higher incidence of Parkinson’s disease.

Leave a Comment