How Lack of Sleep Impacts Cognitive Performance and Focus

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Good sleep helps us to think clearly, remember information, and make decisions. When we don’t get enough quality sleep, it impairs our “executive function”—a set of abilities we need to do well in school, at work, and in all realms of daily life. 

 It’s estimated that about one in three American adults don’t get sufficient sleep on a regular basis. The causes are many: poor sleep habits, sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea , and shift work or job-related restrictions on sleep (as in the military). No matter the cause, there is no adjusting or “getting used to” sleep loss—it affects all humans regardless of our age, health, or job title. Here’s how sleep (and lack thereof) impacts our critical thinking abilities:

  • When you lose sleep, it’s harder to focus and pay attention. This affects school performance and job productivity.
  • Lack of sleep slows your reaction time, making for dangerous driving and other safety related risks at work and at home. A National Sleep Foundation poll found that nearly one-third of drivers said they have nodded off or fallen asleep while driving.  
  • Sleep feeds creativity, synthesizes new ideas, and leads you to “ah ha” moments. Research shows that we need good sleep to feed our high-level, innovative thinking and problem solving abilities.
  • As you sleep, memories are reactivated, connections between brain cells are strengthened, and information is transferred from short to long-term. Without enough quality sleep, we can become more forgetful. Studies suggest that sleeping shortly after we learn new information helps us retain and recall that information later.
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