Make Sleep a Priority Chapter 12

Sleep Keeps You Alert

When you don't sleep well, your motor skills and alertness level suffer. Here's why.


Sleep Loss Makes You Lose Your Edge

Performance of many physical and mental tasks will suffer if you don't sleep. Your concentration and attention span suffer, you are easily distracted and it takes you longer to react to a challenge. Coordination, decision-making and memory go downhill when you are fatigued. Because modern life sometimes demands that we curtail sleep to work or care for our loved ones, certain periods of sleep loss seem unavoidable. But the effects are dangerous. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the short-term coping strategies below for people who have deadlines or obligations that will keep them awake off-cycle. There are no long-term coping strategies. At some point, getting your sleep habits back on track is necessary to maintain your health.

Cope with Short-Term Sleep Loss:

  1. Caffeine: Caffeine is used regularly by 80 percent of adults in the U.S in liquid, tablet or gum form. It can provide improved alertness and performance at doses of 75 mg to 150 mg after acute sleep restriction. Higher doses are required to produce a benefit after a night or more of total sleep loss. Frequent use of caffeine can lead to tolerance and negative withdrawal effects.

  2. Sleep prior to deprivation: Getting extra sleep before a period of sleep loss, known as a “prophylactic nap,” may decrease some of the negative performance and alertness effects.

  3. Naps during deprivation: During a period of sleep loss a brief nap of 30 minutes or less may boost alertness. It can be difficult to awaken from a longer nap, which also can produce severe grogginess, or “sleep inertia,” that persists after waking up.

  4. Caffeine and a nap: The combination of a nap prior to sleep deprivation with caffeine use during sleep deprivation can provide improved alertness over a longer period.

  5. Other stimulants: In certain situations in which sleep will not be possible, treatment with medications may be necessary. Describe the reason for your sleep deprivation with your doctor and discuss the wisdom of resorting to stimulants stronger than caffeine. Some are addictive and have other negative side effects. Try the other interventions first.


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