“Why should I prioritize sleep?” This is one of the questions that pops into people’s heads the first time management sends them on a sleep or fatigue training session. You probably know the feeling, “Here we go again, another directive from management…what do they want us to do now?”
They either want you to do something differently that will result in “amazing” benefits to the organization or they want you to sit still and pretend to pay attention to some training package designed to help the organization prove they have complied with some rule or regulation.
But how often do you benefit personally from the training? How often is there something in it for you? I make sure that all of my training provides personal benefits. I make it meaningful to you on a personal level, so that when you ask questions like, “Why would I bother to change my lifestyle to make sure sleep is prioritized?”, you have a reason other than, “It will make the organization safer”.
Here’s one of those reasons….if you make sure you get the right amount and quality of sleep for you and you take steps to get rid of sleep problems like insomnia, your brain won’t shrink!
Researchers from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience found that the brains of people with insomnia shrink in areas that control problem solving and decision making. There was no link between brain shrinkage and how long people were suffering from insomnia; but there was a link between shrinkage and severity of insomnia.
This means that the worse the sleep problem, the worse the shrinkage in specific areas of the brain. Although the researchers did not test it, it likely also means that if your brain shrinks you might make a poor decision like leaving your door unlocked while you scoot off to the corner store only to return home to find your place burgled; or you might not be able to come up with a good way to solve a problem like how to get your romantic partner to put away his or her shoes so you stop fighting over all the clutter at the front door.
The take home message here is:
Keep your Decision Making and Problem Solving Powers Strong, and
Avoid Brain Shrinkage by Improving your Sleep!
 Altena, E., Vrenken, H., Van Der Werf, Y., Van Den Heuvel, O, & Van Someren, E. (2010). Reduced orbitofrontal and parietal gray matter in chronic insomnia: A Voxel-based morphometric study. Biological Psychiatry, 67, 182-185.