How Sleep can Affect your Performance
A study conducted by researchers at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) found that 68-year-old adults, on average, did better on a simple memory test if they got more sleep.
In younger adults, aged 27 years on average, the quality of sleep also affected how they performed on the same test.
"What mattered in the younger adults was sleep efficiency -- that the sleep was consolidated into one solid chunk," said Sean Drummond, a professor at UCSD's department of psychiatry who led the study, adding that sleeping soundly and uninterruptedly happens less and less frequently with age.
"The most common change in sleep as we age is you wake up in the middle of the night and you're awake for some time, meaning you have lower sleep efficiency," Drummond said.
"In the older adults what we found is that waking up in the middle of the night did not affect brain function or performance the next day but if a young adult did that, it had significant detrimental effects on brain function," he said.
Another study looked at the possible benefits of napping.
"Our question first was could you get the same benefits from a short daytime nap as a full night of sleep," said Sara Mednick, also from UCSD's department of psychiatry.
started looking over a number of different tests beginning with a visual learning test, which showed that if you had a 90 minute nap you showed the same level of benefit as a full night of sleep," Mednick said.
"There's something very special about naps," she said.
But not everyone has the luxury of being able to catch a few Zs in the middle of the day, and as a substitute, many seek a caffeine boost.
But a double espresso works less well than a 20-minute nap, said Mednick.
"On some tasks, such as those involving perceptual memory, caffeine works as well as a nap," said Mednick.
"But when the task involves the hippocampus, the area of the brain devoted to explicit memories you can manipulate consciously, such as learning a list of words or a phone number or name, with caffeine, your memory for those kinds of tasks is decreased," she said.
Meanwhile, another study found that "two significant clinical and public health problems, sleep disorders and drug use in teens" are closely inter-twined.
Not only are teens who sleep less than seven hours a day more likely to do drugs, but they are also likely to pass both their bad sleep and drug-use behavior to friends and siblings. Related article: Study links lack of sleep to drug use among teens
"An adolescent who does not get enough sleep can influence a friend's sleep behavior, which increases the risk that the friend will use drugs," the study says.
How much sleep do I need?
Do you have a realistic idea of how much sleep you need? A general guideline for adults is 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Older adults need a similar amount, but the sleep may be lighter and may include a brief nap during the day. If you are consistently waking up groggy and exhausted, that’s a signal that you may need to up your sleep intake. If you’ve been sleep deprived, it may take a few days of heavier sleeping before you can get a sense of your average sleep needs.
What happens when you don’t get enough sleep
With a packed schedule, trying to squeeze as many hours of possible into the day is sorely tempting. However, when you continuously don’t get the amount of sleep you need, you begin to pay for it in many ways:
- Impaired mood, memory, and concentration. When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re less productive, not more. Lack of sleep affects your ability to concentrate and remember things. What’s more, it makes you irritable and cranky. As a result, you’re social and decision-making skills suffer
- Dampened immune system. Without adequate sleep, the immune system becomes weak, making you more vulnerable to colds, flu, and other infections and diseases. And if you get sick, it takes you longer to recover.
- Increased risk of accidents. Did you know that driving while seriously sleep deprived is similar to driving while drunk? The lack of motor coordination associated with sleep deprivation also makes you more susceptible to falls and injury.