Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Mental Costs of Not Getting Enough Sleep - guest post by Meredith Walker

Most of us are aware of the physical ramifications that lack of sleep causes. Extended periods of sleeplessness can even contribute to making you sick, increasing your risk of illness, causing you to put on weight and making you a generally miserable person. There is a hefty mental toll to be paid for not getting enough sleep as well, however.

Depression: While depression can actually cause sleeplessness, sleeplessness can be a contributor to depression as well. After all, even those who are not depressed are well aware of the effects of a sleepless night on their mood in the morning.
Memory Loss: Harvard researchers found that getting a good night’s rest helps protect memories from interference, allowing you to recall them more easily the next day. The sooner you go to bed and rest well after learning something new, the better off you’ll be. Additionally, lack of sleep has been shown to take an especially big toll on spatial memory, making it hard for you to learn new tasks.
Cognitive Impairment: Not getting enough sleep can take a big toll on your IQ. Researchers at the University of Virginia found that a lack of sleep impaired both cognitive development and IQ in children.
Difficulty Concentrating: Most people are aware of how hard it is to study or focus at work when all they really want to do is head back to bed. Sleeping even a few hours fewer than you need can impact your mental abilities as studies have shown that in school age children this lack causes them to perform significantly worse on tests of memory and attention.
Slowed Reaction Times: Slowed reaction times not only make it more difficult to do your job or do well in school but also make you a potential danger to yourself and those around you if you operate machinery or engage in potentially hazardous activities. With over 100,00 sleep-related accidents every year this is a very significant risk and can at times be akin to driving while intoxicated.

While few are deprived of sleep completely for a significant length of time, the effects can be startling as after even a few days individuals can develop mania and hallucinations. Even if you’re just slightly tired, consider this as an indictor of how much your brain truly needs sleep, even if you think you’re doing fine without it.

When thinking about sleep it’s important to remember that both quantity and quality count, so work on keeping your sleep space quiet, dark and cool so you can get a solid, uninterrupted block of sleep every night.

This post was contributed by Meredith Walker, who writes about the online masters in healthcare. She welcomes your feedback at MeredithWalker1983 at

There is a link to Meredith's website in the Links section on the right-hand side of the blog.

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