Sleep is essential to brain health. According to Dr. Nora Volkow, sleep deprivation can cause brain damage similar to cocaine. She recently gave a speech titled Probing the Sleep-Deprived Human Brain. Dr. Volkow is the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse-part of the National Institute for Health She gave that speech at Radcliffe College which was reported in the Harvard Gazette. Dr. Volkow is an expert on the effects of addictive drugs on the brain, particularly the effects that cocaine has on the brain.
She has found that cocaine disrupts dopamine transmission. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an essential role in brain function. In part, it is released by neurons to signal other neurons. Specifically, she found that that using cocaine resulted in brain cells releasing dopamine but being unable to receive it. She has found that lack of sleep can have the same effect on dopamine transmission.
Here is a quote from her: “Yet lack of sleep itself produces some of the same effects that drugs do: It disrupts memory, inhibits alertness and can contribute to obesity. It also results in accidents, and there are more fatalities associated with improper sleep behavior than there are with alcohol.” Link to the article here.
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