The Effects Of Sleep Deprivation On Executive Function | Life Skills Advocate


It’s Monday morning and as you open your eyes and stretch your arms, you take a deep breath in and think “Wow! What a good sleep!”

You get out of bed, start your morning with your daily routine. Personal hygiene, deep breathing, gratitude writing, and a delicious breakfast. As you walk out the front door you tell yourself “I feel refreshed and ready to take on the day!”

But what happens when day after day you don’t get that good night’s rest?

Do you still awaken and take that deep breath in and stretch?

Are you eager to start your morning routine?

Are you cheering yourself on for the day?

Probably not because you feel sleep deprived. Not only can sleep deprivation impact your motivation but also hinder your productivity and focus.

Read on more to find out how and steps you can take to avoid a decline in your executive functioning.

Sleep Statistics

We all remember to schedule appointments, lunch outings, and other fun activities, but how many of us schedule in sleep?

Sleep is an important activity that not only allows our body to rest and recharge, but also optimize brain functions.

But just how much do you know about sleep? Check out the statistics below.

  • 70% of American adults report at least one day of inadequate sleep per month, and 11% report inadequate sleep daily.
  • 10%-30% of adults are reported to struggle with insomnia.
  • At least 1 of 5 American adults suffer from sleep apnea.
  • Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation is estimated to cost America over $100 billion each year due to decreased productivity, medical expenses, sick leave, and damages to property and the environment.

After looking at some of these statistics, it’s easy to see how many of us really are suffering from inadequate sleep whether it’s occasionally or even daily.

But what exactly is sleep deprivation and what impact does it have on us?

What is sleep deprivation?

The Sleep Foundation defines sleep deprivation as getting less than the needed amount of sleep. Whether the sleep recommendations are 8-10 hours for teens, 7-9 hours for adults 18-64 years, or 7-8 for adults 65 years or older, sleep is critical.

When we are sleeping, the body and brain are hard at work. If not receiving enough sleep, our bodies are unable to function normally and complete all of the necessary processes.

Common experiences of sleep deprivation are excessive sleepiness, mood changes, and impaired executive functioning. Sleep deprivation can be due to various reasons inclusive of lifestyle, sleep disorders, medical conditions, and daily stressors.

Impact of Sleep Deprivation

If you thought sleep deprivation just makes you a little grumpy or tired, think again. It actually impacts various body systems in addition to our mood and level of energy.

Difficulty Fighting Infection

Our immune system protects us and fights off infections. When we sleep, our bodies are working hard to produce protective antibodies and cytokines which in turn fight bacteria and viruses. If deprived of sleep, our bodies are unable to build up our natural warriors.

Increased Appetite and Weight Gain

When we sleep, hormone levels for leptin and ghrelin are affected. Leptin is like a red and green light for hunger. It informs us when we are full. When we don’t sleep enough, leptin is reduced, and ghrelin, which stimulates our appetite, increases. Over time, this can result in weight gain and becoming obese.

Lack of sleep can also cause our body to release less insulin which is important for reducing glucose levels. Having a reduced tolerance for glucose can then result in an insulin resistance which can eventually result in diabetes mellitus.

Decreased Attention and Working Memory

Sleep deprivation impacts our central nervous system by ensuring neural pathways are forming between cells during sleep. This in turn helps us with memory, our ability to concentrate, and learning.

Our body and brain work together to send messages throughout, and so, if our brain is processing more slowly due to fatigue, then so will the messages sent from brain to body, resulting in decreased coordination.

So we know sleep can impact our body’s natural ability to fight infections, regulate hormone levels, and form brain connections, but how does it impact our executive functioning skills?

Sleep Deprivation and Executive Functioning

Productivity and Focus

Whether it is tasks for managing our social, home, or work life, having adequate sleep is important for our productivity and ability to focus.

A study reviewed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine assessed if sleep problems are related to loss of productivity. It was found that individuals with moderate-severe insomnia had more than double loss of productivity, with mild insomnia had 58% loss of productivity, and those who snored had 19-34% loss of productivity.

When we sleep well, we feel ready to accomplish our goals. We are awake, alert, and determined. But when we are sleepy, it makes it hard to fully perform at our optimal levels.

But why is that?

Sleep Deprivation and Job Performance

Lack of sleep impacts our neural connections in the brain by impairing our thinking and slowing down our reactions. We end up using so much of our energy to stay awake resulting in less energy for our brains to concentrate and focus.

If our brain and body is busy working to stay awake rather than being productive, we may end up making more errors and mistakes on tasks. Rather than having our thoughts fully engaged in the activity at hand, our thinking may be “I am so ready to go home and get in bed” rather than “How well can I perform the task at hand?”

Sleep Deprivation Decreases Emotional Control

Feeling tired while trying to work or run errands can impact our mood, resulting in becoming easily irritable, stressed, and overreacting to challenges we may face. When trying to accomplish a goal or even just completing a simple task, doing so when in an irritable mood is going to be very challenging.

If you relate to this loss of productivity and focus when sleep deprived, read below to find out ways you can fight sleep deprivation and get a good night’s sleep.

Fighting Sleep Deprivation

So you’ve decided to say goodbye to sleepless nights and finally get the rest you deserve. But how can you do that?

Life Skills Advocate has assembled a wide range of tools to help neurodivergent individuals get a better night’s sleep. Check out these articles for more information and support on sleep:

Get Educated on Sleep

The more you know about sleep the better. Start with LSA’s “A Neurodivergent’s Guide to Sleep” for a comprehensive look at how sleep and nuerodivergency are related.

Explore Your Sleep Habits

By recognizing if we are experiencing trouble breathing or snoring, restless legs, or just a lack of sleep, you can take the first step to a good night’s rest. Do you know what your individual sleep habits are?

To take a deeper dive into your sleep habits and make a simple, goal-driven plan to improve your bedtime routine, check out our free .pdf downloadable “Sleep Study” log – It’s a segment from The Real Life Executive Functioning Workbook than can help you better understand how your bedtime routine is helping or hindering your EF skills.

Develop a Sleep Routine

LSA has a complete guide to improving sleep routines. It includes evidence-based strategies like avoiding caffeine before bed, creating a cozy bedroom, and considering what sensory input you are exposing yourself to prior to bedtime. Check out: The Nighttime Routine for Improved Sleep and Executive Functioning

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Just like we teach our learners about other healthy living habits, we need to teach them good sleep hygiene habits.

Creating a habit of helpful daytime habits and avoiding unhelpful ones to get a good night’s rest. That can look like getting sufficient exercise, time outdoors, awakening at the same time, and planning your day.

Talk With a Professional

If after creating and following a nighttime routine and including healthy daily habits that you still have trouble with sleeping, consult with your doctor. By seeking support from a professional, you can collaborate and determine the next steps you can take to ensure you get that shut eye each night.

Further Readings


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