Life Engineering, a motivational, scientific self-help website to help you overcome your past and achieve success in life

So often, the difficulties we face in trying to embrace and pursue meaningful change in our lives, or simply to accomplish something meaningful, can be tracked back to one of the most simplest problems there is to solve.

The lack of sleep.

It’s a fact, sleep deprivation kills performance.  Not only that, but lack of sleep kills creativity too, and memory (especially since it’s during REM sleep, the second sleep cycle, that our brains convert memories from short to long term storage).

In fact, sleep deprivation ends up destroying all higher-processing functions within the brain.

Here’s how that happens (in a nutshell).

When you deprive yourself of sleep a number of important things happen on a neurobiological level.


Your brain is like a sugar addict, it needs lots of sugar to function.  In truth, your brain, while processing, burns up energy (stored in sugars) as much as a fully-flexed quadricep (the largest muscle in your body – in the upper thigh).

As the brain burns through your current supply of blood sugar, it lacks the energy stores it needs to function, and so it just doesn’t, or does so at a much-diminished capacity.

It’s why when you’re tired, you crave sugary foods (like donuts and candy).  Your brain needs sugar.

It’s been shown that after 24 hours of sleep deprivation, there’s a 6% overall reduction in glucose reaching the brain.

But it gets worse.  The loss of sugar-assets isn’t equally distributed.  Most of the loss is in the parietal lobe and the prefrontal cortex, which suffer a loss of 12 to 14%.  Those are the areas most crucial to thinking.

Those areas are responsible for idea discernment, differentiating between good and bad, and similarly, for social control.  In fact, it’s much like being drunk.

In fact, Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Business School, Charles Czeisler,  states “We now know that 24 hours without sleep or a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%.”

That’s above all legal limits for alcohol while driving.  Predictably, 20% of automobile accidents are cause by nothing more than lack of sleep.

That’s right, going a day without sleep, or a number of days on reduced sleep, and your cognitive impairment is equal to being legally drunk.

Interesting then, why doctors in residency, a field in which you’d most value peak cognition, is designed to deliver just the opposite due to intentionally inflicted sleep deprivation.

Charles Czeisler calls lack of sleep “The Performance Killer“.


The areas of the brain responsible for the highest order of brain activity is the parietal and occipital lobes, along with the prefrontal cortex.  Unfortunately, with sleep deprivation, these areas are the first to suffer.

The reason for this, is that the thalamus — the region of the brain responsible for keeping you awake — ends up steeling all of the energy as it works in overdrive to compensate for your lack of sleep.

So all your energy simply goes into staying awake.

An adult needs between 6-8 hours of sleep each night.  Less than that and sleep deprivation begins to starve the brain.

So if you care about your brain, and your ability to think, and your capacity to employ all your neuronal powers in your efforts to change your life, impact others, or accomplish something meaningful… get some sleep.


(Image courtesy Sang Yu)

15 replies
  1. Mike.J.S.M.C.S
    Mike.J.S.M.C.S says:

    Hi, Naturally I’m more of a “night owl” , not because i like the night time so much but because throughout life its naturally happened where I’m up all night and sleeping all day, great if your not working and quite young but now I’m mid 20’s, i once stayed awake for 4 days and 5 nights before i decided to go to sleep and the only reason i went to sleep was because i got bored of the things i enjoyed which kept me awake! i could of gone longer to end up reading that apparently 11days without sleep and you can die, uhm?! true??

    Also I’m usually sleeping between 9-12hrs a night, and being awake between 12-30hrs (on average), now apart from me feeling like crap and my outer shell i.e “facial skin,eyes and my general sharpness in life” has gotten worse I’m still sexy and all lol but… any great ideas to get in a really good sleeping pattern such as British army standards sleep for 2200 wake at 0600… i mean saying ( just set your alarm and wake up at 0600 and just get out of bed blah just don’t work for me, hence i keep trying to stay awake long enough to think right I’m nackerd I’m going sleep but then i sleep for 9-12hrs again and nothing is changing, perhaps my died? exercise, daily task’s etc? right now iv’e been awake for like 18hrs and that to me is pretty standard im 23 yrs old! i need to get it sorted! any TOP tips? perhaps listening to somet as i drift off etc?

    • Samir
      Samir says:

      I don’t mean this in any offensive way, but get job and it will certainly fix your sleep problem. Plus, cash flow. :)

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] a good night’s sleep, your mind cannot function properly. In fact, studies have shown that a groggy mind works just as poorly as a drunken one. In order to practice willpower, you need to think clearly, recognizing the logic and reasoning in […]

  2. […] or five hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%.” [2] Although sometimes I feel like telling the boss “Two shots of Jack” when he asks if I […]

  3. […] sleep, makes your cognitive performance (or impairment) equivalent to being legally drunk. [3] So truth is, it is sometimes okay to miss out, and almost always, the work can wait, and you’re […]

  4. […] out there about other people who insom, or about how sleep deprivation can feel on par with being legally drunk, or how tons of really smart, high-achieving people are insomniacs, I’ve probably already read […]

  5. […] about. Some studies have shown that simply saying awake more than 20 to 24 hours without rest is akin to having a 0.1% blood alcohol content, well above legal limits in the United States for driving. Longer term sleep deprivation has also […]

  6. […] Studies have shown that a lack of sleep can be compared to, and can show similar signs as, being legally drunk. […]

  7. […] may have heard that going a day without sleep is the mental equivalent to being legally drunk. It’s true; and what Dr. Dinges’ study also found is that after two weeks, the group with six […]

  8. […] Well these are just some of the effects…. Know better? Leave your own answer in the comments! Question by Janie Me: What are the effects of sleep deprivation? I was wondering if you dont get of…low, your mind can't think or operate normally, you can get paranoid, frustrated, angry or sad quite […]

  9. […] haven’t slept, so I might as well be drunk, and because I don’t have a class for another few hours, I’m passing the time by […]

  10. […] blogger likened sleep deprivation to being drunk, while another draws attention to the research that […]

  11. […] my cognitive functioning is severely impaired as a result of the night wakings. As a result, creativity is at a minimum, and I find it harder to put my thoughts into words and to remain calm when […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.