Although the physiological function of sleep is not completely understood, it is well documented that it contributes significantly to the process of learning and memory. Ample evidence suggests that adequate sleep is essential for fostering connections among neuronal networks for memory consolidation in the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation studies are extremely valuable in understanding why we sleep and what are the consequences of sleep loss. Experimental sleep deprivation in animals allows us to gain insight into the mechanism of sleep at levels not possible to study in human subjects. Many useful approaches have been utilized to evaluate the effect of sleep loss on cognitive function, each with relative advantages and disadvantages. In this review we discuss sleep and the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation mostly in experimental animals. The negative effects of sleep deprivation on various aspects of brain function including learning and memory, synaptic plasticity and the state of cognition-related signaling molecules are discussed.