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Can Lack of Sleep Cause Brain Damage?

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I once knew a fed who pulled an “all-nighter” to meet a deadline, taking catnaps in his office until the sun came up.

Dedicated public servant or problems at home? You be the judge.

With work life bleeding into home life, it’s easy to lose sight of boundaries and find yourself losing sleep from a late night of work—either at home or in the office. New research says that those late nights might be doing permanent damage.

According to research at Harvard and Berkeley highlighted in the Guardian, lack of sleep can cause two things: Euphoria…followed by brain damage. Surprisingly, a missing nights sleep results in the release of dopamine—but using sleep deprivation to get a brief high is probably up there on the scale of bad ideas with drug use:

The higher dopamine levels that result from your sleepless night may mean you enjoy a boost in motivation, positivity, even sex drive. You may think that sounds good; unfortunately you'd be wrong.

Not only are these feelings brief, but the dopamine surge also encourages addiction and impulsive behavior. The regions of the brain responsible for planning and evaluating decisions simply shut down once deprived of sleep, meaning that you're inclined to be overly optimistic and happy to take risks.

Some research indicates that if the mesolimbic pathway is frequently over-stimulated by sleep deprivation, there could be permanent brain damage. This is because of the brain's "neural plasticity" – which means its ability to adapt to new situations. When it's forced to operate in a different state on a regular basis, it permanently alters itself.

Moral of the story? Get some sleep.

Have you ever pulled an all-nighter at work? 

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Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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