The Importance of Sleep

Posted in: September 17, 2018 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson

Last week we talked about tracking progress and making plans (which you can find here). For the next few weeks we’re going to focus on the importance of sleep, exercise, and a restorative diet for your overall wellness. These three components are all necessary to help speed up your ability and focus to execute your plan to becoming extraordinary!

If you haven’t yet, make sure you download my e-book on Becoming Extraordinary. You can download it by entering your email here. You’ll find blog posts here on my website to further unpack each section and give it to you in bite-sized pieces. I look forward to sharing this journey with you!

Today I want to share with you an overview of the importance of sleep for cognitive performance and how insufficient sleep can lead to far more than just feeling groggy. As a NeuroCoach, I find myself talking my clients through a range of things that might be affecting their cognitive performance. One of these things, while often underestimated, is sleep! We all need it. While the amount of hours per night that different people need will vary, I can’t say enough about how important sleep is in every function of life. Settle in, and let’s unpack this a bit!

What is Cognitive Performance?

Cognitive Performance is the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. To achieve our best performance, we should strive to have peak cognitive performance. Included in cognitive performance is the brain’s ability to process information of knowledge, memory and working memory, judgement and evaluation, reasoning and “computation,” problem solving and decision making, comprehension, and comprehension and production of language. So, where does sleep come into play?

Sleep to Improve Cognitive Performance

We tend to underestimate the importance of sleep for our cognitive performance. Our sleep, including how long we are asleep and the quality of our sleep, has a lot to do with our productivity, brain function, and ability to do things like safely operate a vehicle. The National Sleep Foundation took a “Sleep in America” poll in 2005 and found that 60% of adult people (around 168 million people at the time) said that they had driven a vehicle while being drowsy in the past year prior to the survey date. Not just that, but 37% of those people said that they had fallen asleep at the wheel. In my e-book, Become Extraordinary, I share a tragic story of the Hardman family, who lost multiple lives on a trip to Disney due to the teenaged son falling asleep at the wheel.

Sleep doesn’t only translate into driving safety, but also into your productivity levels and cognitive performance at work. Research is demonstrating that sleep deprivation actually degrades higher-level cognitive capacities such as memory and perception overtime. That’s a scary thought! I also took a look at Neuroimaging evidence and found that research shows the prefrontal cortex of the brain is the most affected by sleep deprivation. Why does that matter? The prefrontal cortex just so happens to be responsible for executive function tasks, which we can then connect the dots to see how sleep deprivation could affect major functions, both on the job or off. Staying awake for more than eighteen consecutive hours hinders your reaction speed, short-term and long-term memory, and cognitive speed amongst other functions. Now think about cutting back sleep even more. Not only will it affect your cognitive function, but also other areas of your life and body!

Sleep and its Effect on Weight Gain

The ghrelin hormone is what signals hunger and tells your brain to eat. The leptin hormone is what tells your brain that you are full and that you don’t need to eat anything else. Not getting enough sleep affects both of these hormones, which causes ghrelin levels to increase and leptin levels to decrease. This confuses the brain and leads to your brain wanting more food even when it is not necessary. Heard of the munchies? Not getting enough sleep can also cause snacking when you’re up late as well as more serious things like impaired insulin metabolism. These both can contribute to increased weight gain.

Not only will the late night munchies add on extra and unwanted weight, but they can also contribute to nighttime acid reflux. If you’ve ever gotten up in the middle of the night with acid reflux, you know how unpleasant it can be. Not only is the stomach pain and odd taste in your mouth unpleasant, but the effects go far beyond just internal discomfort. These interrupt your much-needed sleep and can lead you to wake up feeling even worse. Grogginess and brain fog definitely don’t help you on your journey to improved cognitive performance!

Challenge Yourself

My challenge to you this week is this: Take a journal of your sleep habits. Write down when you go to bed and when you wake up, as well as how much you slept. Do this for the next five days.  At the end of the five days, take 10 minutes to mindfully reflect on your entries. As you do this, do you notice any patterns?

How many hours of restful sleep did you get? Did you wake up feeling groggy? What about waking up to go to the bathroom or get a snack in the middle of the night? Did you check your phone or time a few times?

Once you get to know your sleep habits, you can start taking the steps and make the necessary changes to have quality sleep. With quality sleep, you will be more alert and perform your best in your waking hours.

Have questions? Let’s get in touch. I’d love to work with you to help you improve your Cognitive Performance and overall wellness. Sweet dreams!