Sleep’s Impact on the Brain
Please note that this section contains my personal notes from my readings on this topic.
“In the same way that we know how much calcium your baby needs for his bones to grow stronger, we know how important healthy sleep is for the growing brain. Calcium deficiency in childhood harms bone development, but the problems of osteoporosis may not show up until much later in adult life. So if your child eats a calcium deficient diet, the problem is “hidden” because there are no immediately apparent ill effects. Likewise, sleep deficiency in childhood may harm neurological development; the problems remain “hidden,” not showing up until later. I think it is possible that unhealthy sleep habits contribute to school-related problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities. I also suspect chronically tired children become chronically tired adults who suffer in ways we can’t measure: less resiliency, less ability to cope with life’s stress, less curiosity, less empathy, less playfulness. The message here is simple: Sleep is a powerful modifier of mood, behavior, performance, and personality.”
“Dr. Christian Guilleminault, who along with Dr. William C. Dement was the founding editor of the world’s leading journal of sleep research, taught me to consider five fundamental principles of understanding sleep:
- The sleeping brain is not a resting brain
- The sleeping brain functions in a different manner than the waking brain
- The activity and work of the sleeping brain are purposeful
- The process of falling asleep is learned
- Providing the growing brain with sufficient sleep is necessary for developing the ability to concentrate and an easier temperament
Sleep is the power source that keeps your mind alert and calm. Every night and at every nap, sleep recharges the brain’s battery. Sleeping well increases brainpower just as lifting weights builds stronger muscles, because sleeping well increases your attention span and allows you to be physically relaxed and mentally alert at the same time. Then you are at your personal best.”
I believe the young child’s brain is as sleep-sensitive as, if not more so than, an adult’s. It is also possible that severe or chronic sleep deficits occurring early during the period of rapid brain growth might hard-wire circuits to produce permanent effects. This would be difficult to prove, because young children cannot report how they feel and we assume it is “natural” for them to have difficult temperaments, have tantrums, get frustrated, become easily angry, and so forth…
If the brain has been permanently changed due to severe or chronic sleep loss, then, when the naps disappear and school requires more mental vigilance and focused attention, preexisting problems may appear. It is not simply academics that might suffer. We do not know the contribution of healthy childhood sleep towards creativity, empathy, a sense of humor, or adult mental health.