Updated at: 24-02-2022 - By: Jane

The brain uses sleep as a time for rest and recuperation. Sleep stages, including rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, affect brain activity, and evidence is mounting that sleep improves nearly every aspect of cognition.

Attention and concentration are essential for most learning if you get enough high-quality sleep. Apart from memory, problem-solving skills and emotional intelligence all benefit from a good night’s sleep as well.

Cognitive impairment in the afternoon is prevalent in persons who are sleep deprived because of insomnia, sleep apnea, or other sleep disorders. Multiple studies have also shown a link between poor sleep and cognitive deterioration over the long term, including the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

As it turns out, sleep can improve both short- and long-term cognitive abilities. Getting enough sleep can help you think more clearly and slow down the onset of cognitive deterioration as you become older.

Why Don’t People Value Sleep?

There are many people who are unaware of the detrimental effects that lack of sleep has on their mental and cognitive health.

Many individuals consider sleep to be a luxury – a few minutes of downtime. They know that a good night’s sleep makes them feel better and that a bad night’s sleep makes them feel worse. Sleep, on the other hand, actually enhances memory, learning, and intuition.

Barry Krakow, MD, medical director of Maimonides Sleep Arts and Sciences, Ltd. in Albuquerque, N.M., and author of Sound Sleep, Sound Mind: 7 Keys to Sleeping Through the Night: “You’re putting energy in the bank when you go to sleep,” says this. “The body is literally healing and renewing itself at the cellular level. You can’t do anything – physically or intellectually — without it.”

Also, many people underestimate the difficulty of sleeping in order to make up for lost time. An entire night’s sleep deficit can’t be made up by sleeping in on the weekend when the average person gets less than six hours per night over a week.


What Happens to the Brain During Sleep?

Every night, a person has four to six sleep cycles lasting between 70 and 120 minutes. During these cycles, which correlate to various stages of sleep, the brain and body go through significant changes.

Overall, brain activity slows down in NREM stages, although some types of brain waves remain pulsed. Stage 3 NREM sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep or deep sleep, is when this wave pattern is most prominent in the brain.

Brain activity increases significantly during REM sleep compared to non-REM sleep. When you are awake, your brain’s activity is quite comparable to that during REM sleep. REM sleep is well-known for producing more vivid and complex dreams.

NREM and REM sleep stages are frequently alternated during the night, with a greater concentration of REM sleep in the second half of the night. Different substances in the brain are activated or deactivated during each stage of this process to coordinate rest and recovery.

Experts aren’t precisely sure why sleep advances in this way, but it’s believed that it aids in mental healing, which can unlock cognitive benefits connected to attention, reasoning, and memory, among other aspects of cognition.

How Does Poor Sleep Affect the Brain?

Sleep deprivation has a negative impact on the brain’s ability to operate. As a result of the lack of recovery time, neurons become overworked and less effective in a wide range of cognitive tasks.

There is a slew of symptoms that indicate a lack of quality shut-eye. If you don’t get a good night’s sleep, you may suffer from narcolepsy. The regular, healthy progression of sleep cycles is hampered by both insufficient and disrupted sleep.

Short-term brain and cognition consequences of inadequate sleep can be caused by merely pulling an all-nighter, while people with persistent sleep disorders may be damaged by their daily duties. However, in the long run, sleep deprivation may increase a person’s risk of cognitive deterioration and even dementia.

What Are the Short-Term Impacts of Poor Sleep on Cognition?

There are numerous short-term effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive function.

Drowsiness and exhaustion are common side effects of a poor night’s sleep for most people. People may nod out for a few seconds, known as microsleeps, in reaction.

Inconvenient as it may be, the daily fatigue that results from a bad night’s sleep can have major effects on one’s cognitive abilities. It affects a person’s ability to learn and comprehend information. The effects of sleep deprivation have been compared to those of alcoholism, in that they both slow reaction times and impair judgment.

Just being unable to stay awake can have a wide-ranging effect on one’s ability to think, but research has shown that inadequate sleep can also have specific effects on one’s mental functioning. This means that sleep deprivation affects different portions of the brain in different ways, resulting in increased damage to certain areas of the brain.


Studies on the selective impact of sleep on different forms of thinking are not always consistent. It’s possible that this is due to the fact that each study’s participants are different, that the way they sleep is altered, or that cognitive impacts are measured differently. There are, however, some general observations about how sleep deprivation affects the brain’s ability to process information.

A number of studies have shown that sleep and memory appear to be tightly interconnected. Working memory, the ability to recall information for immediate use, is impaired by sleep deprivation.

Broader memory consolidation appears to be aided by both non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. When it comes to declarative memory, NREM sleep has been related to the development of things like basic facts or statistics, whereas REM sleep is thought to enhance procedural memory, such as memorizing a series of steps.

Sleep deprivation disrupts the usual process that relies on both NREM and REM sleep for storing and recalling memories, resulting in memory loss. People who are sleep-deprived may even be more prone to the formation of false memories, according to research. It has been observed that even if a person receives a lot of sleep, fragmented sleep can harm their memory.

On top of memory loss, sleep deprivation has a negative impact on other cognitive functions. Disadvantages include the inability to keep track of where things are and the inability to follow directions. Sleep deprivation has a negative impact on a person’s ability to move, keep time, and speak.

Sleep deprivation has been linked to a decreased ability to adapt and thrive in uncertain or changing situations, according to certain studies. Rigid thinking and “feedback blunting,” in which the ability to learn and develop on the fly is limited, are two important contributing factors.

Poor sleep also alters the way in which emotional information is understood, which is another way in which it hampers thinking. In the process of studying, analyzing, or making a decision,

Disrupted emotional responses can lead to impaired decision-making in numerous circumstances. Insufficient sleep deprivation increases a person’s propensity for risk-taking behavior and their tendency to overlook negative consequences in favor of the possibility of positive ones. This can have a domino effect since we are less able to learn from our mistakes when we are sleep deprived because our typical mechanism for processing and consolidating emotional memory is disrupted.

Another facet of cognition that is negatively impacted by poor sleep is that of creativity. The ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated ideas is one of the hallmarks of creativity, and one that is amplified by adequate sleep. NREM sleep allows the brain to remodel and rearrange information, while REM sleep is when new ideas and connections between thoughts are formed. A key component of creativity and creative problem-solving is the ability to gain insight through these approaches.

In addition to directly affecting cognition, sleep disturbances such as insomnia or restless leg syndrome can also have an indirect impact. Sleep deprivation can raise the risk of diseases like the common cold, and migraine sufferers are more likely to suffer from morning headaches when they don’t get enough sleep. Anxiety and depression symptoms can intensify if you don’t get enough sleep. Several physical and mental health issues, including attention and concentration, can be influenced by a person’s sleep quality.

According to current research, a lack of sleep has a negative impact on one’s ability to think clearly. People who don’t get enough sleep are more prone to making mistakes, not retaining new information, having memory problems, and making poor decisions.

As a result, sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on academic performance, creative endeavors, and work productivity. Drowsy driving or operating heavy machinery without proper sleep can pose a life-threatening concern if you don’t get enough sleep.

What Are the Long-Term Impacts of Poor Sleep on Cognition?

A lack of sleep has a short-term impact on cognitive function, but research reveals that inadequate sleep might have long-term consequences.

Among a review of more than 25 observational studies, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s dementia were found to be much more common in those who had sleep issues. According to this study, inadequate sleep may be to blame for up to 15% of cases of Alzheimer’s dementia.


A new study has found that sleep is essential for the brain’s housekeeping, including the removal of potentially harmful beta-amyloid plaques from the brain. Plaques of beta-amyloid aggregate in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, which impairs cognitive function. One night of sleep deprivation has been shown to raise beta-amyloid levels in the brain, according to research.

This could be one of the reasons that sleep deprivation and sleep fragmentation has been linked to memory loss and dementia. Poor sleep has also been related to a worse prognosis for those with dementia who have already been diagnosed.

Are the Impacts of Poor Sleep on Thinking the Same For Everyone?

Poor sleep has different effects on different people. Some people may be predisposed to cognitive impairment as a result of sleep deprivation for hereditary reasons, according to research.

For the most part, studies show that adults are better able to recover from sleep loss than children. In light of the continuous brain development that occurs in adolescence, teens are thought to be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of sleep deprivation on thinking, decision-making, and academic performance.

The effects of sleep deprivation may be more easily tolerated by women than males, however, it is unclear whether this can be attributed to biological reasons, social and cultural influences, or a combination of the two..

Can Sleep Disorders Affect Cognition?

It’s no wonder, then, that sleep problem are associated with cognitive impairment because they typically result in sleep deprivation or fragmentation.

Insomnia has been linked to both short-term and long-term cognitive issues, including difficulty falling asleep and remaining asleep all night.

Another prevalent sleep issue is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It occurs when the airway becomes closed, resulting in breathing lapses and a decrease in blood oxygen levels as you sleep.

Over the years, OSA has been associated with drowsiness during the day and a host of cognitive issues, including issues with concentration, reasoning, memory, and verbal communication. People with sleep apnea are also more likely to acquire dementia, according to research.

Does Too Much Sleep Affect Cognition?

A lack of sleep isn’t the only problem, according to a number of research on the impact of sleep on the brain and cognition. Sleep deprivation and oversleeping have been linked to cognitive deterioration in a number of studies.

This connection’s origins are a mystery. There is no way to tell if a person’s tendency to oversleep is related to another medical condition that increases their risk of developing cognitive issues. There are both minimum and maximum recommendations for a good night’s sleep in this study, which is an important reminder.

Will Improving Sleep Benefit Cognition?

People who have trouble sleeping can improve their cognitive performance by enhancing their sleep. Consistently sleeping for the necessary number of hours each night has been shown to improve memory, concentration, and other cognitive functions.


Many scientists believe that good sleep could help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly. In order to know for sure whether or not sleeping well will slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, additional research is needed. However, preliminary evidence suggests that getting more sleep can help avoid cognitive loss.

Tips To Improve Sleep and Cognitive Performance

As a preliminary step, anyone who suspects they are suffering from cognitive impairment or excessive daytime sleepiness should contact their physician. An examination by a medical professional can rule out other possible causes of these symptoms, such as sleep disorders. They can also talk about how to sleep better at night.

A good night’s sleep is the foundation for many sleep-enhancing strategies. You can get a good night’s sleep by improving your bedroom environment and your daily habits and routines. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine in the evening, sleeping on a regular schedule, and keeping electronic devices out of the bedroom are a few examples of good sleep hygiene practices.

The Impact of Sleepiness on Mood and Mental Health

Your mood can drastically change if you don’t get enough sleep. As a result, you may become more easily overwhelmed by stressful situations. According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), people who are “walking fatigued” are more inclined to sit in traffic and yell at one other. When the National Sleep Foundation surveyed people, those who reported sleep deprivation were also less likely than those who reported adequate sleep to engage in physical activity, eat healthfully, have sex, and enjoy leisure activities.

How Do You Know if Sleepiness Is a Problem?

If you’re not getting enough sleep, experts recommend that you take a look in the mirror and see how you feel. In Verceles’s opinion, you shouldn’t feel tired when you wake up. “As you draw closer to your regular bedtime, you should gradually wind down and maintain a high level of energy throughout the day.”

Krakow recommends evaluating your day-to-day abilities and overall well-being as a starting point. What he advises is to ask yourself, “Is my cognitive performance where I want it to be?” When it comes to memory, attention, and concentration, do you have problems with coworkers or your manager?

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