5 Surprising Ways A Full Night's Sleep Positively Effects Your Brain

by Emily Westbrooks

There's a certain irony in the fact that I can't remember the last time I got a full night's sleep, and yet here I am writing about the mental health benefits of getting one. If you're also a new parent or a parent of young kids, you might want to take your shoe off and throw it at the computer while I wax poetic about the mental health benefits of a full night's sleep. But take heart, you will one day be able to reap those benefits again.

From warding off ADHD behaviors in children and adolescents to preventing depression, the importance of a full night's sleep on your mental health can't be understated. In an interview with Romper, Dr. Dawn Dore-Stites, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Sleep Disorder Center at Michigan Medicine and Reverie Sleep Advisory Board Member says, "We know that sleep plays important roles in memory formation and learning. And we are starting to understand that sleep may also have impacts on inflammatory responses that is associated with a host of medical and mental health concerns."

While Dr. Dore-Stites reveals to us that scientists are still uncovering sleep's full power over us, she explains, "we are confident that sleep problems and other problems (medical, behavioral, mental health) go hand-in-hand and that prioritizing sleep is just as important as prioritizing exercise and good nutrition." And that, my friends, is full justification for hiring a babysitter so you can take a nap, if you were looking for one!

Here are some specific mental health benefits you'll be achieving when you get a full night's sleep.


Prevents Depression

Dr. Dore-Stites reiterates the connection between sleep and mental health, explaining, "several studies find that short sleep duration (generally defined as less than 6 hours per night) is associated with higher rates of depression." However, she gave us a sliver of a reason to feel smug about those friends who are getting too much sleep while we're snoozing through our third cup of coffee. "Interestingly, too much sleep (more than 8-9 hours per night) is also associated with depression." She suggested speaking to a doctor to help discern whether your sleep problems are a cause or symptom of depression.


Curbs ADHD Behaviors

Adults know the pleasure and benefits of a full night's sleep, but it's even more important for kids to get the amount of rest they need for their age. So what happens when they are not getting enough rest? David Rapoport, MD, director of the NYU Sleep Disorders Program, told Health, "Whereas adults get sleepy, kids tend to get hyperactive." Getting enough sleep can help kids curb those behaviors, like not following through with instructions or finishing schoolwork.


Improves Memory

Matthew Walker, PhD, director of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory, explained to Science Daily that researchers have just begun to understand how big a role sleep plays in consolidating memories. "A period of sleep could help people improve [one's] performance of 'memory tasks'," he said. "When you're asleep, it seems as though you are shifting memory to more efficient storage regions within the brain." In result, when we are awake, we are able to access this information "more quickly and accurately and with less stress and anxiety," he explained.


Improves Cognitive Performance

A somewhat terrifying study (for new parents, at least), published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, outlined just how much sleep deprivation can affect your ability to function. They especially looked at people whose jobs required them to miss sleep regularly and found, "Performance of residents in routine practice and repetitive tasks requiring vigilance becomes more error-prone when wakefulness is prolonged." So there might be a case for new parents to have chauffeurs as well as regular babysitters!


Boosts Creativity And Problem-Solving

I can remember the first time I had a dream I could recall after my daughter was born — 1 year later. It took me that long to get back into the routine of regular sleep, so it comes as no surprise that I was almost totally unable to string sentences together until then. But why is that? A study in the medical journal Cognitive Brain Research explained, "REM-sleep dreaming is associated with creative processes and abstract reasoning." So the more sleep you get, the better you'll be at processing things that are more creative or abstract, like dreams, and tackle problems from different angles.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.