The National Institutes of Health reports that there could be 50 to 70 million Americans experiencing some form of sleep disorder that could “significantly diminish” health, safety and alertness. The disorder could take the form of too much sleep, too little sleep, sleep apnea, or a poor quality of sleep. The downside is that this deprivation results in slower reaction times, more accidents, more trips to the doctor, more medications, and memory lapses.

“And the most worrisome part of this is these people don’t realize how sleep-deprived they really are,” says Hans P.A. Van Dongen, PhD, lead researcher and assistant professor of sleep and chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “When people are put through chronic sleep deprivation, there is an initial response where they say, ‘OK, this is not optimal but I’ll manage.’ But after a few days of this, things are much worse than they realize.”

According to Dr. Van Dongen, people simply don’t actually realize how tired they are. “They have slower reaction time, weakened memory, and other thinking impairments.”

Scientists were able to pinpoint the effects of sleep in different regions of the brain under different conditions – waking, sleeping and during periods of sleep deprivation in new research published in Frontiers in Neuroscience.

The behavior of over 200 genes within seven areas of the brain were pinpointed by identifying which genes were turned of or on, and where they were located in the brain. Their conclusion was that sleep deprivation affects the frontal lobe – the area of the brain thought to control our higher cognitive reasoning, emotions and memory.

The study found a “novel set” of genes associated with sleep deprivation that included genes related to stress response, irritability, impaired memory, concentration and coordination. These symptoms were found to be common among people who worked long hours (health care and military, for example) and were deprived of the proper amount of sleep. It also linked sleep deprivation to the development of depression, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Being able to track this brain activity will advance the ability to treat many diseases that can be traced back to lack of adequate sleep and overcoming their effects. This would include the ability to improve your memory.

The good news is that you can actually catch up and rejuvenate with a few days of good sleep. There are also a few good sleep aids that will get you started in that direction:

  • Get rid of all distractions. Turn off the television and radio, darken the room, and get comfortable.
  • Drink warm milk. Milk contains tryptophan, which is a natural sleep aid, and sipping a warm beverage has a soothing effect.
  • Drink Chamomile Tea. Although it doesn’t have any natural sleep chemicals, it’s safe and relaxing. The calming effect will help you sleep better.
  • Eat a bowl of oatmeal with milk and walnuts or almonds. This is a good bedtime snack that combines carbohydrates and protein. A warm bowl of cereal with milk has the same effect of warm milk, plus the nuts are brain food to help improve your memory.
  • Eat a banana. For a great bedtime snack that acts as a muscle relaxer, eat a banana. It contains natural chemicals tryptophan, melatonin, serotonin, and magnesium. Try it on toast with peanut butter!
  • Eat a cup of yogurt. Containing both protein and carbohydrates, yogurt is a light mix that will fill you up without making you feel stuffed, and it has wonderful disease preventative properties.

This is Ron White, two-time USA Memory Champion, memory training expert, and memory keynote speaker. The lack of sleep can do so much damage to learning and memory, and I am happy to bring this information to you.




Memory Zine: (Jan. 13, 2011)

WebMd: Sleep Deprivation Leads To Trouble Fast:

WebMd: The Toll of Sleep Loss in America:

National Sleep Foundation: