You Need Better Sleep To Support Cognitive Flexibility

Are you familiar with the term cognitive flexibility? It refers to the ability to change our thinking based on new information. A link has been established between sleep deprivation and impaired cognitive flexibility. There’s ongoing research on how this affects decision making.

I don’t know about you, but when I get poor sleep it’s hard to focus. It’s harder to be optimistic. It’s easy to be forgetful. It’s easy to get frustrated.

Some of us use caffeine to reduce symptoms of sleep deprivation, but it’s possible to become caffeine dependent. If you miss that morning cup and you’re sleep deprived your symptoms could be even worse.

Instead of relying on caffeine to supplement your poor sleep, evaluate your sleeping hygiene. Do you do anything to wind down before bed? Is there a set time you stop looking at your phone? Do you try to regularly go to sleep around the same time?

These questions refer to aspects of a healthy sleep routine. I’ll use myself as an example, but keep in mind I’m still struggling to establish this so it doesn’t happen every night:

  1. Wind Down – I’ll try to drink some relaxing tea, do yoga, read, or listen to soft music about an hour before bed.
  2. No Phone – This one has been the hardest to stick with. I try to stop looking at my phone at 10, 10:30 PM at the latest. Often times it doesn’t happen. I’ll grab my phone to check that my alarm is set and since it’s already in my hand I’ll open an app like Facebook and start scrolling away.
  3. Bed Time – If I’m following the ‘no phone’ rule this gets easier. I aim to be falling asleep by or before 11 PM. If I don’t put down the phone, or if I’m watching some engaging television, all bets are off and who knows when I’ll actually fall asleep.

I find it interesting that while settling into a sleep routine has been so difficult for me, waking up tends to be pretty easy. Regardless of what time I go to bed around 6:30-7 AM my internal clock knows it’s time to start the day. I suppose I can thank a steady work schedule for that!

Better sleep will help us keep cognitive flexibility, but that’s not all. Improved sleep is linked with a number of health benefits. It helps curb inflammation, supports a healthy weight, and can lower depression.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you have to follow your sleep routine every single night for the rest of your lives. I’m not asking you at 9 PM on a Saturday to tell your friends that you need to go home to lay down in bed and turn on your white noise machine (BUT if you need an excuse to leave this is a hilarious one).

It’s not about perfection. It’s about trying to be mindful. After those long nights out try to wake up around the same time, avoid taking naps, and get back into the routine the night after.

Your body will thank you for it!

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