The brain starts to eat itself when it's sleep deprived..

Burning the midnight oil may well burn out your brain.

Neuro Athletes!

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As many of you know, I am deeply passionate about sleep physiology in the context of high-performance. I prescribe specific sleep protocols to my athletes and to my corporate clients because sleep is something we have control over. If you understood what I knew about sleep, and all cause mortality, as well as most disease processes, you would realize that sleep is the most underrated high-performance tool we have in our arsenal. We spend nearly a third of our lives asleep, and it is as vital to our wellbeing as the food we eat and the air we breathe.

But our 24-hour culture means we are getting less sleep than ever….

Forgoing sleep is like borrowing from a loan shark. Sure you get those extra hours right now to cover for your overly-optimistic estimation, but at what price? The shark will be back, and if you can’t pay, he’ll break your creativity, morale, and good-mannered nature as virtue twigs.

I read this interesting study done on rat models in the 1980’s.

Let’s take a look at what happens when we are sleep deprived…


Sleep deprivation has many confounders so it would be hard to tease out mechanistic links between sleep deprivation and brain health but here are just a few things that happen to your brain and health when you are deprived of sleep.

Glymphatic System

  • The glymphatic system essentially is a cleansing system for the brain that during sleep at night washes away all the metabolic toxins and byproducts, beta amyloid, tau, and the other Alzheimer’s-related proteins).

  • Take deep sleep away from a human for one single night and you can see significant increase in circulating levels of amyloid and tau the next day. Interestingly, if you get 7 hrs of sleep or less, there is marked difference in amount of β-amyloid built up compared to 7 hrs or more. When animals (rats) are deprived of sleep or sleep is fragmented, they get immediate β-amyloid buildup

Blood Pressure

  • During normal, healthy sleep, blood pressure drops by around 10-20%5. This is known as nocturnal dipping, and research highlights its role in cardiovascular health.

  • Poor sleep, whether from a lack of sleep or sleep disruptions, is associated with non-dipping, meaning that a person’s blood pressure doesn’t go down at night. Studies have found that elevated nighttime blood pressure is tied to overall hypertension (high blood pressure).

  • n fact, nocturnal blood pressure has been found to be even more predictive of heart problems than high blood pressure during the day. Non-dipping has been tied to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. It’s also been linked to kidney problems and reduced blood flow to the brain.

The list goes on..

There are at least three motivating reasons to build an accurate account of how sleep deprivation (SD) affects the human brain.

In the image above you can see brain regions and networks associated with attention and working memory (frontoparietal network (FPN); red), arousal (thalamus; green) and the default mode network (DMN; blue) are affected by sleep deprivation. In addition, SD alters learning-related hippocampal connectivity.


Jeff Bezos from Amazon aims for 8 hours of sleep to find work-life harmony, to “feel energised and excited”.

“If you shortchange your sleep, you might get a couple of extra “productive” hours, but that productivity might be an illusion. When you’re talking about decisions and interactions, quality is usually more important than quantity.”

Arianna Huffington is now an advocate of sleep after getting 5 stitches in her right eye after she collapsed due to exhaustion.

“I’m not saying that you can’t succeed by burning out. But you can succeed much more effectively, and much more sustainably, and with much less damage to your health and your relationships. That’s why they tell you on airplanes, put your own oxygen mask on first.”

Bill Gates is another sleep convert. He explains in a Microsoft FAQ:

“I used to work all night in the office, but it’s been quite a while since I lived on catnaps. I like to get seven hours of sleep a night because that’s what I need to stay sharp and creative and upbeat.”

Bezos and Gates are great examples of the proven links between sleep, leadership performance — and a healthy bottom line.

And out of the office, champion tennis player Roger Federer shares how he is still going strong at 37 years old, in a sport filled with teen, and twenty-something hotshots.

“…sleeping has become quite important. I make sure I sleep enough, as well. Because I believe it’s really the sleep that gives you energy again down the road.”

That’s it for this week! In the coming weeks we will be announcing our premium membership starting at $19/month which will include:

  • Well-researched and in-depth manuscripts that focus on the latest studies in neuroscience we found most interesting, with notes, comments and related links.

  • Access to the private Q&A Louisa does with her guests that are not published on the public podcast feed.

Hit me up if you have any stories, feedback, or insights to share. Otherwise, see you next week!


Have you every been on a ketogenic diet? If so, what were the effects on your cognitive performance?

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