Your Brain on Sleep

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Sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and the Army Performance Triad. Signs of sleep deficiency such as lack of energy and concentration are usually pretty apparent. However, research has demonstrated the negative effects of sleep loss extend much further than feeling a little tired. Sleep plays a crucial role in both mental and physical performance. Without the proper amount of sleep, the body is prone to injury, fatigue, stress, muscle weakness, and poor focus. In fact, the body declines in physical performance by 25% every 24 hours that it is deprived of sleep. Conversely, a fully rested body can think more clearly, make better decisions, and perform at a physically optimal level.

Sleep and Mental Performance

Memory

During sleep, the brain consolidates long-term memory into storage, removing the short-term memory stores to allow for the absorption of more information. Being well-rested also improves working memory.

Mood

A lack of sleep can increase irritability and mood swings. A general absence of emotion can also result from not getting enough sleep. During sleep, the body releases hormones. Premature waking can disrupt the delivery of these hormones, causing moodiness.

Focus and Concentration

Having a full night of rest increases the brain’s ability to concentrate. Sleep also improves alertness and reaction times.

Multitasking

During sleep, the brain prioritizes information. Sleep is also important in the formation of new ideas and the ability to multitask.

Logical Reasoning

Without sleep, it is harder for the brain to perform higher level cognitive functions, such as mathematical concepts. A well-rested brain is able to reason and think more clearly.

Sleep and Physical Performance

Energy and endurance

Sleep increases energy stores in the body used to fuel physical activity and exercise.  Without enough sleep, insulin resistance and a decrease in glucose tolerance occurs. This means the body cannot readily utilize fuel for physical activity as efficiently as when it gets a full night’s sleep.

Muscle recovery

During sleep, the body is able to recover and repair damaged muscles and bones.

Stress

Sleep reduces the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Without enough sleep, cortisol levels increase, which can lead to slowed healing, increased risk of injury, and poor memory.

Accuracy and reaction time

Sleep can also improve brain function, which helps improve accuracy and reaction time related to focus and athletic performance.

Bottom Line

Sleep loss impairs both mental and physical performance. After 24 hours without sleep, mental and motor skills are impaired at the same level as someone with a blood-alcohol content of 0.10-legally drunk in all 50 states. For those who are struggling with sleep or simply not prioritizing it to the top of their list, start by setting some simple goals tonight!

Try to keep these sleep practices on a regular basis:*

· Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable, and cool.

· Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual (such as a hot bath).

· Avoid naps, especially in the afternoon.

· Avoid caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening.

· Wind down. Spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading.

 

*Resource: The National Sleep Foundation