• Rita Hitching

Night Owls

Updated: May 7, 2019


D​o you love to stay up late at night? Constantly nagging your parents to let you have 'an all nighter' with your friends. Do your parents tell you to "...get some sleep..." or say "...you're just tired..." when you disagree with them!


Your teenage brain is glorious - if you didn’t know that already. Neuroscience has shown that the brain goes through critical periods of growth and development - while in the womb, the first year of life, and the early years; right into adulthood. What scientists have more recently discovered is that the brain undergoes a 'secret mission' of change during the period between the ages of 12 to 19 years that is truly unique.


Emotional Control

The area of the brain known as the amygdala, located deep in the brain's center is associated with emotional control - lack of sleep really upsets the amygdala and as a consequence you may experience irritability, stress, even temporary personality changes. Lack of sleep may cause you to become grumpy even if generally you are pretty easy going.

In addition lack of sleep disrupts the connections between the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex (PFC). The PFC is associated with thinking, reasoning, and impulse control. Lack of sleep literally affects your ability to think and make decisions. You say, and do things governed by your emotional rather than thinking part of you brain. So next time you feel cranky and out of sorts, maybe you need an early night! Below is are more details as to what happens when your brain is deprived of sleep.


From: wwwlifehacker.com

If you are planning on an all night study session before an exam, to make sure you 'remember everything and ace the test' - let neuroscience guide you against it. Lack of sleep directly impacts the hippocampus - an area of the brain associated with memory. Your plan to 'memorize' information the night before your exam, won't work. In fact, the opposite is true - lack of sleep will make your recall of information needed to answer the questions on the test much worse. Smart teenagers know to keep the "staying up all night sleepovers" to school holidays and not during the week, and certainly not the night before a test.


Brain Washing

The other key feature of sleep, in addition to giving your body some rest is - cleaning. Sleep literally enables your brain to 'wash' itself by removing all the toxins that have built up during the day as a byproduct of all the thinking an learning your teenage brain is doing.

The cerebrospinal fluid around your brain and spinal cord - enables the brain to 'drain out' all the toxins in the brain via the glymphatic system - a network of glial cells and blood vessels around the brain. Lack of sleep effectively prevents the brain from 'taking out the trash' or the protein beta-amyloid. A build up of trash anywhere, soon starts to smell bad - well, your brain doesn't smell bad - but it makes you feel like a bad smell. You basically feel 'rotten' - tired, wornout and in a bad mood.


So next time your parents tell you to go to bed, do it for your brain, not because they told you to!

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