"Poor sleep has an adverse impact on thinking," says sleep expert Dr. Lawrence Epstein, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. "This is true whether it's due to a lack of sleep or a sleep disorder."
Lack of sleep can interfere with attention, concentration, and reaction time. Going without sleep for 48 hours harms thinking skills as much as a blood alcohol concentration of 0.1%, which is above the legal limit for driving in every state.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to get more sleep. "You really can make up for lost sleep and restore focus and clarity. You can lose the brain fog within a week. But start now; the longer you have bad sleep, the longer it will take to catch up," says Dr. Epstein. He suggests:
- checking for medical conditions or other problems that might be causing trouble sleeping
- using the bed for sleep and sex only, not watching television or working
- exercising at least three hours before turning in
- not eating close to bedtime
If those efforts don't work, see a sleep specialist. He or she might suggest sleep restriction, a program of reducing time in bed to ultimately create better sleep, or cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help redirect thoughts and reduce anxiety about not being able to fall asleep.
Read the full-length article: "Sharpen thinking skills with a better night's sleep"
Also in the March 2014 issue of the Harvard Health Letter:
- The lowdown on heart palpitations
- Must-have fruits and vegetables
- Try this position to stop snoring at night
The Harvard Health Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $16 per year. Subscribe at www.health.harvard.edu/health or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).
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