Sleep, Attention, Cognition, Mood

Sleep = Quality of Body & Mind Functions

The Basics

What: Studies on The Sleep Connection With Our Attention, Mood and Cognitive Health

Source: Study by Basner M, Dinges DF., Maximizing sensitivity of the Psychomotor Vigilance Test (PVT) to sleep loss;

Great For: Understanding Importance of Sleep, Emotional Well-Being


While scientists are still working to identify and clarify all of the functions of sleep, decades of studies — many of which have used the method of disrupting sleep and examining the consequences — have confirmed that sleep is necessary for our healthy functioning and even survival.

“We know for sure that sleep serves multiple functions,” says Dr. Dinges. “Nature tends to be very parsimonious in that it often uses a single system or biology in multiple ways to optimize the functioning of an organism. We know, for example, that sleep is critical for waking cognition — that is, for the ability to think clearly, to be vigilant and alert, and sustain attention. We also know that memories are consolidated during sleep, and that sleep serves a key role in emotional regulation.”

Dr. Dinges and his colleagues have found that people whose daily sleep duration is inadequate, or repeatedly disrupted (e.g., by obstructive sleep apnoea, restless legs syndrome, pain or stress, or shift work or jet lag), often are not aware of their accumulating sleep deficits or the toll that these deficits can take on their waking cognitive functions, including their performance, working memory, cognitive speed, and accuracy. Inadequate sleep also can take a toll on psychological well-being, significantly affecting our emotional and psychosocial interpretation of events and exacerbating our stress levels.

Studies have indicated that changes in mood may be due in part to the effects of sleep deprivation on the processing of emotional memory—in other words, our tendency to select and remember negative memories after inadequate sleep.

In one study conducted by Dr. Dinges and colleagues, participants’ mood was observed after they were confronted with “high” and “low” performance demands, following varying degrees of sleep deprivation.

“To our surprise, those who were sleep-deprived responded to low stressors in much the same way that people without any sleep deprivation tended to respond to high stressors,” said Dr. Dinges. “In other words, we tend to become much more sensitive emotionally and socially when we are sleep-deprived. That is what I like to call the ‘who was at my desk or who touched my coffee cup?’ phenomenon. I think we all have experienced having an extreme reaction or a very negative emotional response to a mild stressor when we have not had enough sleep.”

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