There is no scientific evidence to suggest that missing an occasional nights sleep is going to have a lasting adverse effect on our physical and emotional well-being.
But things get complicated for people who suffer from chronic insomnia or prolonged periods of sleeplessness. Beyond feeling tired, groggy, irritable, and just generally out of it, sleep disorders can have potentially serious consequences on our health and, yes, even on our ability to hear.
And, like a lot of other ailments, this particular one also starts in the brain.
Many people may not realize that we actually hear in our brains, not our ears.
The fact that the brain serves many vital functions is, well, a no-brainer. Not only does it control the five senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste, but also our thoughts, memory and speech, arm and leg movements, and the function of many organs within the body that are essential for our survival.
The part of the brainstem called the pons is an important control center coordinating eye and facial movements, facial sensation, hearing and balance. Therefore, if the brain function is diminished, the domino effect is going to impact any or all of these functions.
Various studies suggest that sleep depravation alters brain activity, diminishing its ability to function normally and even causing it, in some cases, to shut down, severely compromising its ability to process information.
The tired brain
A few years ago a team of researchers from the UCSD School of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in San Diego used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology to monitor activity in the brains of sleep-deprived people performing simple verbal learning tasks.
Thirteen healthy subjects were first evaluated in a sleep laboratory to determine that their sleep patterns were normal. They were then kept awake and monitored over a period of about 35 hours. During this experiment, they were given various cognitive tasks to perform. The fMRI images reveal both increased and decreased activation of specific regions of the brain in each subject from a rested state through various stages of sleep deprivation.
One of the findings of this study was that the temporal lobe, area of the brain involved in receiving and processing sounds and language interpretation, was activated during verbal learning in rested subjects but not in the ones who hadnt slept. .Put simply, those who had not slept showed signs of their brains not kicking in in order to process incoming sounds, thus their ability to interpret incoming sound was poor.
The logical answer is to get enough sleep, so that the brain and thus all the body systems, including our hearing an function optimally.
While the sleep requirements vary from one person to another, depending on age, level of activity, and other factors, generally speaking an average adult needs between seven and eight hours of restful sleep a night.
But for millions of people, the quest for a good nights sleep is keeping them wide-awake.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 30 percent of Americans are getting less than six hours of sleep, and an estimated 50 to 70 million people suffer from sleep disorders resulting in sleep loss.
If you are one of those people who just cant catch their zzzs, the CDC and National Sleep Foundation suggest the following pro-active measures:
Avoid caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes close to bedtime.
Exercise regularly, but complete your workout at least three hours before bedtime.
Establish a regular relaxing, not alerting, bedtime routine (e.g. taking a bath or relaxing in a hot tub).
Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet and preferably cool and comfortable.
Go to bed at the same time each night, and rise at the same time each morning.
Sleep in a quiet, dark, and relaxing environment, which is neither too hot nor too cold.
Make your bed comfortable and use it only for sleeping and not for other activities, such as reading, watching TV, or listening to music.
- Avoid large meals before bedtime.
Remember: a good sleep will keep your brain healthy and alert, performing all of its inherent functions including sound and speech interpretation at its best.
And thats one piece of news worth hearing loud and clear.