How Does Sleep Affect Your Cognitive Performance?
It is a symptom of modern life that many of us have come to accept. Many people even speak of it as a matter of pride. Yet it has been proven time and again that consistently getting insufficient sleep can have a significant, long-term impact on our brain’s health and functionality.
The effects of not getting enough sleep are as wide as they are serious, ranging from poor concentration and irritability, to memory depletion and, eventually, depression.
In fact, sleep deprivation can eventually take its toll on our physical health; it is now widely accepted that a chronic lack of sleep gives you a higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and a host of bacterial diseases. It is therefore surprising to learn just how low a priority sleep actually is for most people.
According to Scientific American, 56% of people between the ages of 25 and 55 get an insufficient amount of sleep. This figure is fairly representative across the globe, and some developed nations, such as the UK, seem to be getting worse. In this context, the term ‘socially jet lagged’ seems incredibly apt.
Of course, many people see this as simply an inevitable part of modern culture. Not only are many of us expected to be ‘on the clock’ 24 hours a day, but entertainment is now so ubiquitous and readily available that there is always something to read, watch, play or Tweet no matter what time it is.
Even if your intentions are to go to bed at a respectable hour, the pull of a social media argument, the latest show in a series you are hooked on, or the final chapter in your book can always get in the way. Yet, for the sake of your long-term health, both mental and physical, it is obvious that things need to change.
What can’t you do?
Missed sleep actually accumulates over time, making it more difficult to recalibrate your brain as you repeatedly fall short of the necessary 7 to 9 hours per night.
Contrary to what most people believe, this sleep deficit has to be addressed in the same way that it accumulated in the first place; incrementally.
You can’t just get 14 hours sleep one night at the weekend and be back to normal. If anything, getting that much sleep in one go will leave you feeling as groggy and as mentally inhibited as you would had you got just 5 hours sleep.
Chronic sleep deprivation is therefore a problem that needs to be addressed over time, making it all the more important that you start making changes immediately.
What can you do?
Luckily, making lasting changes are not that difficult, and there are a number of ways that you can put your brain back on track in a relatively short space of time.
Follow the advice listed here, and you will not only start clawing back all the cognitive function that tiredness has robbed you of over the year, but you will also find your memory, mood, and focus actually start to improve, reaching levels above and beyond your baseline.
A little goes a long way
Studies have shown that getting just half an hour of extra sleep in the morning can significantly improve your mood, cognitive function, and memory.
Getting as much as 20 extra minutes in bed each day can often be enough to bridge the gap between the sleep you need and the sleep you get. As discussed above, this can go a long way to maintaining overall brain health.
Get some exercise
Considering that busy, over-worked people are often those who suffer most from sleep deprivation and a lingering sleep debt, I am not going to tell you that the answer lies in hitting the treadmill or the weight room for an hour, four times a week.
No, there is no need to commit yourself to such a rigid schedule. While doing so would definitely help you sleep, if you have no inner motivation to exercise so regularly, or if you are currently quite a sedentary person, then it is unlikely that you will stick to it anyway.
Instead, try building small bouts of exercise into your daily routine. For example, always take the stairs instead of the lift; try walking to work two days per week at least; go for an after-dinner walk for 20-30 minutes each evening; or go for a 10 minute jog.
If you don’t get much exercise as it is, then even doing the bare minimum will help to some degree.
Many people who try everything and still can’t sleep end up turning to sedatives. In terms of brain health and functionality, this really is the last thing that you want to do. Sedatives will knock you out; no doubt about that. However, they will put you into a state of sleep that is of very low quality.
You may have heard people say that an hour of meditation is worth 2 hours of sleep? Well, the inverse is true for sedatives: 8 hours of a drug induced coma is probably about as ‘mentally nutritious’ as 4 hours of natural sleep.
Thankfully, there are a plenty of natural, safe, drug-free supplements designed to help you get a fantastic 8 hours of quality sleep, every single night.
Unlike synthetic sedatives, these supplements are made for long-term use. I have taken several of such supplements myself, and I have reviewed them on this site. Have a read through the reviews and see if there are any that sound like they might be for you. Each and every one of them are 100% natural products, made by reputable producers, and are reasonably priced.