Sleep Your Way to a Better Day: Rest & Cognitive Function

Ask any healthcare provider or expert and he or she will gladly attest to the importance getting enough sleep for physical well being. Whether your goal is losing weight or just maintaining a healthy lifestyle, sufficient sleep plays a critical role in improving your body composition. Unfortunately, modern society can make prioritizing our rest an increasingly formidable challenge. When you consider the extent to which technology and contemporary culture emphasize work productivity and offer so many options for distractions, it is easy to see how so many individuals fail to sleep for anywhere near their optimal amount of time.

The consequences of this trend, however, impact more than just your physical health. Sleep deprivation and impaired sleeping pattern also compromise your cognitive function. This can create a negative feedback loop, especially in regards to your work or school life, where you stay up late to complete tasks, do not get enough sleep to mentally excel during the day, and thus fall behind so you need to stay up even later. This cycle is critical to break, not only because it adversely affects your productivity, but also because of increased stress and the effect on your emotional being.

Acute and/or chronic sleep deprivation inevitably detract from your ability to both think and learn. The science community is also in agreement that a loss of alertness and attention also results, a conclusion for which the anecdotal evidence is wildly abundant. This inability to focus indicates a series of lapses or slowed responses – in short, sleep deprivation causes waking-state instability in cognitive processes like working memory. Certain mental skills are more dramatically impacted than others, like creativity or the ability to innovate. However, cognitive function in terms of reaction times, memory assignments, and reasoning skills all also end up significantly impaired by acute sleep loss.

So, it is obviously important to take getting to bed and enjoying enough sleep seriously. If you are struggling with cognitive issues, evaluate whether or not you are sufficiently rested. The signs that you may be struggling with sleep deprivation are much more nuanced than just being vaguely tired. Many individuals become accustomed to adequately performing with an inadequate amount of sleep, so that they do not realize they are not operating to their fullest potential. Consider if you suffer from a lack of motivation, if you are irritable or moody, if you are unable to cope with stress, if you struggle with memory problems, if you lack enough energy to sustain the day to day activities, or if you gain weight easily. All that and more might very well indicate that you need to get to bed earlier or stay in bed later. Remove all distractions (especially electronic ones!) at least an hour before you end your evening and start taking care of yourself by finally taking sleep seriously.