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Zombie Brains & Other Sleep-Related Factoids

Sleep has been on my mind a lot in recent months (no doubt because I’m not getting much!). Even though my son is so, so close to sleeping through the night, this mama still wakes up at pretty regular intervals.

Fortunately, my husband and I both are able to take turns taking naps or sleeping in, and that’s helped a lot. Still, though, nothing beats regular solid sleep!

Sleeplessness, insomnia, lack of sleep — however you crumble the cookie, the state of not getting enough shuteye can wreak havoc on your body, contributing to problems like:

  • Out-of-control food cravings.
  • Weight gain.
  • Poor immune systems.
  • Concentration problems.
  • Blah physical traits (think sallow skin, dark circles, red eyes).

Additionally, poor sleep can cause more serious health complications including high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

You’re probably nodding your head and thinking, “Yes, Alicia — now tell us something we don’t know.”

Alright, then. Here are three little factoids about sleep and your physical and mental health that you might not be familiar with!

1. Sleep Helps Keep Your Memories Safe.

Researchers out of University of California — San Diego report that sleep might play a big role in continuously learning throughout our lives. Sleep does this by encoding our new memories while also protecting our old memories. The researchers predict that both our old and our new memories are spontaneously replayed during sleep, which not only helps prevent us from forgetting them but also increases recall performance.

Maksim Bazhenov, PhD, lead author of the study and professor of medicine at UC San Diego gives us a simple example:

When you play tennis, you have a certain muscle memory. If you then learn how to play golf, you have to learn how to move the same muscles in a different way. Sleep makes sure that learning golf does not erase how to play tennis and makes it possible for different memories to coexist in the brain.

Bazhenov also says the study results could lead to developing tools to improve memory and learning, which is especially important for people with learning disabilities and older adults.

2. Sleep Prevents Your Brain From Eating Itself.

That’s right — your brain might be cast as the newest character on The Walking Dead if you deprive it of enough sleep.

So, here’s how it works. Our brains change states when we’re asleep and clean up the toxic byproducts that neural activity leaves behind during the day. That part’s normal and perfectly healthy. However, when we have persistently crappy sleep, then our brains start clearing out A LOT of stuff — important stuff like neurons and synaptic connections — and extra sleep might not reverse the damage.

ScienceAlert puts it like so:

Think of it like the garbage being cleared out while you’re asleep, versus someone coming into your house after several sleepless nights and indiscriminately tossing out your television, fridge, and family dog.


3. Sleep Can Make You a More Positive Person.

If you’re not worried about losing memories or developing a zombie brain, then at least strive to get more and better sleep for the pleasant demeanor.

No doubt you’re aware that sleeplessness can cause crankiness. You might even know that past research has suggested a lack of sleep can affect your emotional state.

Now, we know from a recent study published in the Journal of Sleep Research that this is the real deal.

During the study, participants were shown “pleasant and neutral images” after five nights of regular sleep and after five nights of restricted sleep (five hours a night). Researchers found that participants were more likely to have negative responses to the “pleasant and neutral images” after the periods of restricted sleep than after the periods of normal sleep.

This also suggests that sleep-deprived people are more likely to perceive personal events and interactions in their daily lives as worse than they are.

Pretty sure I’ve experienced that before!

P.S. Want a little extra? As I was writing this post, I ran into a new study on how sleep problems might help nudge you in the direction of your entrepreneurial goals.

Photo by Gregory Pappas on Unsplash.

Zombie Brains & Other Sleep-Related Factoids

Alicia Sparks

Alicia Sparks is a freelance writer and editor and the creator of, where she blogs to help new freelance writers get their quills in the pot, so to speak. Among animal rights, music, and physical wellness, her passions include mental health and advocacy. Here at Psych Central she works as Syndication Editor as well as authors Your Body, Your Mind, Unleash Your Creativity, and World of Psychology's weekly "Psychology Around the Net."

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APA Reference
Sparks, A. (2020). Zombie Brains & Other Sleep-Related Factoids. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 Aug 2020
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