The Surprising Thing Sleeping Does To Your Brain

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

A recent study was published on the accuracy of soldiers at the firing range based on the amount of sleep they had gotten the previous night. The surprising results indicate just how crucial it is to get enough sleep at night. Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss ways to improve the quality of your sleep, so you can function better during the day.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel [Amen 00:00:05].

Tana Amen: And I'm [Tana 00:00:06] Amen. Here, we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain spect imaging to better target treatment, and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information visit Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Hey everybody. Today we're going to talk about one of the most important topics that we ever talk about and that's sleep. I love sleep. Actually, it seems like the older I get the more I like to go to sleep.

Tana Amen: The more we love sleep, right?

Dr. Daniel Amen: But, it is just critical, and I think actually it's not the older I get the more I love sleep. It's the more research I read about sleep-

Tana Amen: Yeah, when I met you, you stayed up really late, and you thought I was going to be this party girl. And I've never been able to stay up late. So we had these little adjustment things we had to do. And you started going to bed earlier.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Only one or ... well, it's because you went to bed earlier.

Tana Amen: Right. I can't do it. I just can't do it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: There was motivation. When you sleep, and this is actually new information, your brain cleans, or washes itself from the trash that builds up during the day. And I remember a number of years ago when I read that study, and saw a TED Talk on it, that I was telling Chloe about it. She was eight at the time, and so Chloe went in to you and said, "Mommy, I have to go to bed, because I have to wash my brain."

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And then you came into my office-

Tana Amen: I was like, "What is she talking about?"

Dr. Daniel Amen: And you go, "What is she talking about?" It's so critical to your human functioning.

Tana Amen: So we have done a number of podcasts on the importance of sleep and how important it is and why you need to do this because of cleaning your brain. We want you to listen to those for sure. What we really want to touch on today though is, we want to point out just why it's important, because sleep deprivation ... what is the impact on cognitive performance? We want to talk about that and how seasons ... what are some of the things that affect your brain? Like change of seasons and why is heat ... how does the temperature change affect your sleep? Because we know so many of you struggle with sleep. You've got medications, or hormones, or all these things are affecting your sleep. We get these calls, and emails, and all these things every single day. So we've done a number of podcasts on those. Please go listen to those.

But we want to talk about some of the science right now on the impact. Let's start with sleep deprivation. The impact of sleep deprivation on cognitive performance. Tell them about the study with the soldiers. Let's start there. Remember the soldiers at the range?

Dr. Daniel Amen: So soldiers who had seven hours of sleep were 98% accurate on the range. Sort of reminds me of you and Chloe.

Tana Amen: Right. So we like to go to the range. Might as well put it out there. I love going to the range, and I have found this to be true. If I don't sleep ... I'm actually a really good a good shot, but when I go to the range and I have not slept I'm not that great.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Soldiers who got only 6 hours ... so listen to this. Between seven and six, they were only 50% accurate on the range.

Tana Amen: That's crazy. One hour difference decreased their performance by 50%.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Remarkable. And those who only got five hours, it was 28%.

Tana Amen: Yep.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And those who got less than four hours, were only 15% accurate.

Tana Amen: Dangerous.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Dangerous. Not getting enough sleep is associated with way more accidents. In fact, sleep deprivation is equivalent to driving drunk.

Tana Amen: It's amazing. In fact they think it's more ... yeah, it's more dangerous.

Dr. Daniel Amen: They have more problems with their weight, because when you don't sleep you have less blood flow to your brain, which means you're not going to supervise your decisions as well. You have more marital problems,

Tana Amen: Interesting.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... because you tend to say the first thing that comes to your mind rather than thinking about how what you say will come out. And I remember it's partly why I'm still not married to my first wife. She said, "How does this skirt make me look?" And I said, "Sort of like the back of a school bus."

Tana Amen: Yeah, who says that? You're one of the most thoughtful people I know. Every now and then you have this slip up where you say something really bizarre, but mostly you're really thoughtful. I cannot imagine you saying ... were you in residency then?

Dr. Daniel Amen: I think I was.

Tana Amen: Okay, residents get no sleep.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I was sleep deprived.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It didn't go over well. You have to be careful, and I know when I take an overnight flight, or I don't get sleep, a patient had an emergency or something, I'm even that more cautious the next day so I don't make mistakes.

Tana Amen: Interesting. As a very high performance person, most of the things I've done and do in my life are pretty high performance like karate, and I notice I get hurt more when I don't sleep. If I haven't slept well, I don't perform as well, I get hurt more, don't do well at the range. As an ICU nurse, I would be scared. I took myself off of the night shift and told them I can't do it, because I was afraid I was going to hurt somebody. I was a trauma nurse. Last thing I want to do is hurt another person, because I've not slept well.

But according to this really interesting study from the Department of Psychology at the University of [Turku 00:06:48], Finland, interestingly, they say that women, generally, it still affects their brain in a very negative way, but they generally cope with sleep deprivation better than men. I find that interesting, because you always think of men being soldiers, right? But why would women-

Dr. Daniel Amen: But women take care of babies.

Tana Amen: Oh, interesting. True.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So women's brains are remodeled as they go through pregnancy. So many women will talk about pregnancy dementia, but what really happens is the tracks in their brain change when they have a baby. They're more able to tolerate stress, they're more able to be up in the middle of the night.

Tana Amen: Now what this says specifically is that in terms of cognitive performance they endure prolonged wakefulness better, but they recover slower. So that's really interesting isn't it?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well that's why if your wife has a baby you want to do everything you can to protect her sleep, because she's just going to be happier and nicer.

Tana Amen: Interesting. So do men tolerate stress better though?

Dr. Daniel Amen: No.

Tana Amen: No. Interesting.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, women suffer ... I'm just getting read to publish a new paper. The largest brain imaging study ever. We'll have to do some podcasts on it. We looked at the difference between male and female brains on 46,034 scans. The difference was crazy. Female brains are more active in most areas of the brain, especially the prefrontal cortex but also the limbic brain. That means women generally have better decision making, but with their emotional brain being more active, they're also more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.

Tana Amen: Okay.

Dr. Daniel Amen: They have twice the level of anxiety, twice the level of depression that is important to them-

Tana Amen: So it's a check and balance.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... to learn how to deal with it. There actually was one study from Montreal that showed women had 52% less serotonin than men, and serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It calms things down ...

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... in the brain. Without that, something bad happens. They spin on it.

Tana Amen: No. Absolutely not.

Dr. Daniel Amen: More than men. That's how you may hear about it 47 times.

Tana Amen: It's like the NSA has got nothing on me when it comes to security. So yeah, it's a check and balance system. Men have certain strengths, women have certain strengths.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yes I am here with the end of the world. Even though I don't really feel the end of the world most days, you remind me of it frequently.

Tana Amen: That's because you don't have to worry about it, because I take care of you. So, yes.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I'm so grateful.

Tana Amen: Yeah. I know.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Most of the time.

Tana Amen: All right. What can we do? We've really gone through this in a lot of our other podcasts as far as strategies for sleep, but I would say probably identifying what your challenges are and then going through a checklist of what you might be able to start strategizing what you might be able to do to counteract some of these things that are affecting your sleep. Night shift is one of the worst things.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I see it as super simple. Three things. Brain envy. You have got to care about your sleep. Avoid things that hurt it. So caffeine. And I know for me, even chocolate at night. It makes it harder for me to sleep. We have this new recipe, the crunchy chocolate mint thins, they were so good I had three of them, and I was up an hour later. And my brain was just buzzing.

Tana Amen: So knowing that about yourself is really good.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Knowing that, avoid anything that hurts it. Light, noise, negative thoughts. In fact if you have bad thoughts at bedtime, journal them. Get them out of your head. Journaling.

Tana Amen: Journaling's really good.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So helpful. Then talk back to them. We teach you how to do that. Alcohol. A lot of times people say, "Well it puts me to sleep." No but the problem is it suppresses brain activity but then three hours later your brain will rebound up and wake you up in the middle of the night.

Tana Amen: However, some of the sleep time teas are fabulous. So some of those are really calming, really relaxing.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Like chamomile.

Tana Amen: There's lavender chamomile. If you really want some, if you're not one of those people who has bad wacky dreams with valerian, valerian teas can be amazing. Paromi tea. There's a bunch of them. You just go to the tea section, and there's a whole section on night time, sleepy time teas. For me, they're so powerful that if I combine that with my magnesium and melatonin, fabulous. Then find a couple of strategies. I am not a video game person or anything like that, but the one thing I do like before I got to bed, I'm a word game freak. Because it shuts my brain off. If I do that for 15 minutes before bed. It's almost like a hypnotic thing. It just puts me out. Then do my prayer and meditation, and I'm gone.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Hypnosis can also be really powerful. We should do a whole podcast on hypnosis.

Tana Amen: We should. You're right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's so powerful.

Tana Amen: And so-

Dr. Daniel Amen: I was just talking to a colleague of mine about a patient who had Parkinsonian tremor, and he couldn't sleep and he said, "Would you give me a sleeping pill?" And I said, "Sure. But can I hypnotize you first?" When I put him in a trance his tremor went away before he went to sleep.

Tana Amen: Amazing. I love hypnosis.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So hypnosis can also be really powerful. We want you to have sleep envy. Take care of your sleep. Turn off your gadgets at night. That's really critical. Make it a priority and your brain will be so much better. Stay with us.

Tana Amen: Thank you for listening to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. We have a special gift for you. It's an opportunity to win an evaluation at the Amen Clinics. All you have to do is subscribe to this podcast, leave a review, and rate us on iTunes.

Dr. Daniel Amen: To learn more about Amen Clinics and the work we do, go to You can also learn about our new nutraceutical products at Thanks for listening.