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It’s 3AM and it’s story time

It’s 3AM and you are uncomfortably awake in your comfy bed.. Your heart is hammering yet there is no sign of a threat anywhere. Turning yourself over, you settle back down to sleep because…..

….. I have to be up – oh heavens – in two or 3 hours… and crikey, I’m busy all day with stupid meetings and a project to finish for my boss – who thinks that ‘upstairs’ loves the ideas and I’m not sure he’s on the right track … still why am I worrying about this? … he won’t give me any credit for the work anyway and will probably be all enthusiastic about the new guy who seems to be setting himself up to take my job by being so freaking bright and helpful that I just want to strangle the brown-noser……. even though he’s really a nice guy and here I am being so judgmental and suffering from not enough sleep which reminds me I have to get up in few hours and this isn’t helping me with that other [insert disaster here]……….

While the dialog may not be exact, I’m betting you have at least one or two versions of your own…

What’s really happening here?

Your brain needs sleep – in the right amounts. Sure you can, in a pinch, get by for a night with less sleep. Your brain works best with a good balance of sleep, food, and novelty. Depriving your brain of sleep is like cutting one of the legs off a 3-legged stool – and expecting to sit straight.

The cost of going without your zzzzz’s is a foggy brain, bad decisions and poor impulse control – not to mention that you lose your ability to be kind and tolerant, and emotionally agile.

The other stool legs – food and novelty – are also important. The imbalance that occurs when we fail to heed our body asking for a break, or when we fool ourselves that we can multitask our way through life – are a huge contributor to the problem.

Brain imbalance of this sort keeps us teetering on the edge of stress – where the slightest thing pushes us over. The chemical cocktail that our brain uses to respond to critical incidents, leaves Cortisol behind. Having too much Cortisol left over in your bloodstream, significantly contributes to waking you up at night.

The brain’s bottom line

All the emotional and psychological energy we burn by being reactive rather than proactive or thinking takes its toll.

Imagine that the part of your brain (your pre-frontal cortex) which sees complex patterns and can focus and reason is like your wi-fi signal receiver. It’s either ‘on-line’, or ‘off-line’. You need to be ‘on-line’ to make sense of what’s around you, and to be able to respond reasonably and consistently to your environment. Too much adrenalin (along with the left-over Cortisol), too much sugar and not enough down-time takes your brain ‘off-line’.

While it’s attractive to stay up late to watch the latest episode of your favourite TV show, or to forget to focus your mind away from too much ‘getting things done’, it’s just not a good idea!

We each have our own recipe for brain health – some work better with more stress, some with less. The Neuroscience is telling us much in the way that Mom and Grandma used to that there are some things the brain just can’t do well without: One of them is sleep.