How Does Lack of Sleep Affect Cognitive Performance?

November 15, 2023
Tired, well-dressed woman sitting at desk

If you have ever pulled an all-nighter, you might remember feeling tired and “out of it” the next day. Perhaps it took you a few days to feel sharp, alert, and focused again. Why does that happen? How exactly does a lack of sleep affect cognitive performance? This blog post discusses how inadequate rest can affect your brain in both short-term and long-term ways.

Short-Term Consequences of Inadequate Sleep

The brain needs all four stages of sleep to function optimally, from light sleep in stage one to deep REM sleep, which is essential for memory storage and other purposes.

During each stage of sleep, different chemical processes occur that support various aspects of how the brain works. Therefore, whether you do not get enough sleep, or your sleep is disturbed by a disorder like sleep apnea, you may find that you quickly start to experience a reduction in cognitive skills, such as:

  • Short attention span and reduced capacity for learning. A lack of sleep can hinder your ability to learn and pay attention just as much as overindulging in alcohol.
  • Reduced adaptability. Without enough sleep, your thinking can become more rigid. You may find it very difficult to adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Reduced emotional intelligence. You may find it more challenging to cope with your own emotions and consider the emotions of other people.
  • Impaired judgement. Some people are more likely to take risks when they are tired. They may focus only on the potential rewards of a decision instead of considering its dangers.

Long-Term Consequences of Inadequate Sleep

Occasionally failing to get enough sleep is unlikely to cause any long-term harm. However, if you consistently do not rest enough over the course of years or even decades, your brain could suffer significant damage. In fact, you may face an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

In Alzheimer’s disease, plaques form in the brain that interfere with cognitive function. During sleep, your brain works to clean out the proteins that form those plaques. Without enough rest, those proteins are more likely to cluster together and negatively affect your brain’s function. It is estimated that up to 15% of Alzheimer’s cases are attributable to poor sleep.

How Can You Get More Sleep?

You may need to make some lifestyle changes in order to start getting enough sleep. For example, establishing a consistent schedule and cutting back on caffeine might help. However, it is also possible that you could benefit from medical care, particularly if you have sleep apnea or another disorder. If you are struggling to feel well-rested despite spending 7 -8 hours in bed each night, it may be time to consult with a qualified doctor.

Sleep is vital for your brain! Do all you can to protect your cognitive function by getting enough rest night after night.

Meet the Practice

Dr. Kenneth Mogell is double board certified in dental sleep medicine. He has spent more than an entire decade helping patients to find freedom from sleep apnea. If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, he and our team would be happy to consult with you. Use our website to get in touch with any of our locations, or call our Vero Beach office at 772-882-6800.