Lack of sleep could have serious consequences -

Lack of sleep hurts health

How often have you forgotten where you placed your cell phone, which turn to make while driving, or the time for an important meeting?

Did you attribute your forgetfulness to a lack of sleep? If so, you're not alone.

Fifty to 70 million adults are getting less sleep than recommended, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to new research from Stanford University, every toss and turn during the night may be stopping your brain from forming new memories.

Their findings were based on observations of mice, but everyone else can probably relate.

In the study, scientists injected a light-sensitive protein into the brain cells of lab mice. The researchers periodically shined a light to activate the cells. Even if the mice didn't wake up, their brain did.

What researchers discovered is that compared to mice who received a full cycle of sleep, those who got the constant wake-up call treated old objects as if they were brand new.

They just couldn't remember and they probably feel a lot like us when we don't get enough sleep.

Megan Bowlby remembers every moment leading up to the birth of her daughter, Claire. However, she doesn't remember much of what happened immediately following her daughter's birth. 

"Did I feed the dog? Maybe. You just can't remember, you can't focus because you haven't had any sleep!" she said.

Researchers at Stanford University now say whether its a "coo" or anything else that interrupts your shut-eye like conditions ranging from Apnea to Alzheimer's, what happens during those disruptions may be the missing link to some of our memory loss.

Dr. Michael Zgoda is a sleep specialist at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC, and he agrees.

"Not only do you have an inability to learn, but you also have difficulty putting together older, long-term memories," Zgoda points out.

Researchers believe during the deepest cycle of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) our brain sorts and stores our memories.

In order for the brain to organize these memories like a computer processing files, our brain needs to reboot.  

The brain is supposed to go through a four-sleep phase per night with each phase ending in REM sleep.

If REM sleep is interrupted, that memory, researchers believe, can't fully install.

Bowlby says when her newborn wakes her up at night, it affects mom's performance the next day. 

"You're mind is not there," and Bowlby adds, "It's like you're drunk all day."

While she anticipates the day she'll be able to get a full eight hours of sleep, this new study shows even if frequent arousals don't effect the overall duration of sleep, they still disrupt our ability to recall information.  

Its like hitting a "pause" button while our brain is replaying through recent events and not being able to find its place again because of something or someone stopping the show.  

"Sleep has a lot of things that we don't know about yet, but we do know that there is nothing like a good night's sleep," Zgoda says.

Experts say you should create a cool, comfortable and completely disruption-free "cave" for catching your Z's. 

This new wave of sleep research could explain the reason why you can't even remember the last time you couldn't remember.  

Researchers point out for this study, mice tended to wake more frequently than people anyway, so more research is needed to see how interruptions specifically affect humans.

The dangers of sleep deprivation are clear. Just one night without sleep impairs driving ability to the equivalent of being drunk.

That kind of effect puts your safety at risk whether you're a truck driver, a surgeon, a mom or a mouse.

Additional information:

  • An estimated 50-70 million U.S. adults have sleep or wakefulness disorder (Institute of Medicine. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2006.)
  • The National Department of Transportation estimates drowsy driving to be responsible for 1,550 fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal injuries annually in the United States. (
  • School-age children (5-10 years) need 10-11 hours of sleep daily, teens (10-17 years) need 8.5-9.5 hours, and adults need 7-9 hours (
  • Nearly 30 percent of adults reported an average of ≤6 hours of sleep per day in 2005-2007. In 2009, only 31 percent of high school students reported getting at least 8 hours of sleep on an average school night (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • The research was published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • The "light-sensitive protein" is known as channelrhodopsin-2.
  • Once the light was shown to mice, brain arousal was detected by monitoring brain waves.

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