Why a Good Night’s Sleep is Vital for Optimal Concentration and Memory

Around 30% of American adults are sleeping six or fewer hours a night, which increases the likelihood of serious diseases such as heart disease and obesity, but also affects their academic and work performance. As noted by researchers at the University of York, “sleep allows us to use our memory in the most efficient way possible, enabling us to update our knowledge of the world and to adapt our memories for future experiences.” In this post we highlight the importance of quality sleep for concentration and memory by delving into recent findings on the matter and suggest ways to enjoy a better, more comfortable sleep.

Sleep and Concentration

Brain fog is just one typical effect of an all-nighter but studies have shown that the effects of chronic sleep deprivation go further. One study published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that subjects who had poor sleep quality (because of serious sleep apnea, in this case) had reduced gray matter in the brain, which is linked to impaired concentration, focus, and memory, as well as cardiovascular disturbances. Another study by Harris Health System researchers found that when students pull all-night study sessions, the result is impaired memory and a reduced ability to maintain concentration. These studies reflect the inexorable link between the rested mind, and optimal focus. To boost your performance, ensure to embrace good sleep hygiene, and to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Top supplements for concentration today can also help, with components such as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, which have been found to play a positive role in preventing cognitive decline.

Sleep and Memory

Studies on the relationship between sleep and memory have come to very similar findings. One study by University of California – Riverside neuroscientists found that getting enough deep sleep (also called ‘delta sleep’) plays a key role in consolidating memory. During this sleep stage (which occurs around a third of the way into our nightly sleep), specific electrical activity takes place in the brain which ‘replays’ specific memories. Another study showed that acute sleep deprivation impairs the working memory and impairs general mental performance, which can increase the risk of accidents and mistakes.

Sleep and Mood

Sleep deprivation can affect our ability to concentrate or learn in an additional way: by negatively affecting our mood. One study published by the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology found that in teens, even a short period of sleep restriction can hamper mood, and raise the risk for depression and addiction. The researchers found that sleep deprivation affects the putamen: a part of the brain that plays a role in learning from rewards. When participants lacked sleep and the reward for playing a game was larger, the putamen was less responsive than low reward parts of the brain. When the students were rested, there was no difference between activity in this and other areas. Clearly, then, sleep enhances a student’s ability to complete tasks and goals. Similar results have been found among adults. A study by researchers at John Hopkins Medicine found that poor sleep quality (as a result of frequent night wakings) is significantly more detrimental to positive moods than getting a small amount of sleep without interruption. The researchers noted that it all has to do with the restorative power of good sleep. They also stated that the effects of sleep deprivation are cumulative. “You can imagine the hard time people with chronic sleep disorders have after repeatedly not reaching deep sleep,” said one of the researchers.

Poor Quality Sleep Affects Young Children Too

A study published by the University of Chicago Medical Center found that children aged seven to 11 with moderate or severe obstructive sleep apnea can suffer harm in brain cells tied in to cognition and mood. In particular, researchers noted an extensive reduction of gray matter in children with sleep disorders. They noted: “The images of gray matter changes are striking. We do not yet have a precise guide to correlate loss of gray matter with specific cognitive deficits, but there is clear evidence of widespread neuronal damage or loss compared to the general population.”

Improving Your Nightly Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep involves four main factors: establishing a set routine; creating a cosy, quiet and dark bedroom atmosphere; avoiding stimulating beverages and gadget use in the afternoon and evening; and tackling stress throughout the day. Holistic activities such as mindfulness meditation and yoga immediately lower levels of stress hormone, cortisol. Physical activity, meanwhile, can help you fall asleep more quickly. According to the Sleep Foundation, ‘sleep quality’ involves falling asleep within half an hour of getting into bed.

Getting a good night’s sleep is about so much more than feeling rested. It reduces the chances of accidents, enables you to remember important facts and focus at school and work, and improves mood. If you have insomnia or you are battling stress, seek professional help; your health and happiness depend on it in more ways than are immediately apparent.