Alaska Sleep Education Center

Struggling to pay attention? Lack of sleep may be to blame

Posted by Julia Higginson on Sep 14, 2017 11:37:31 AM


Attention problems may be sleep-related

Millions of children and adults struggle with difficulty concentrating, trouble completing tasks, organization problems, and memory lapses. Dealing with an attention deficit, although common, can be frustrating and difficult to deal with.

The most common diagnosis for attention problems is ADD (attention deficit disorder) and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). But did you know that the symptoms of attention deficits are also the symptoms of poor quality or insufficient sleep?

Prolonged sleep depravation and sleep disorders can lead to issues with memory, learning, and focus.


Overlapping Symptoms

A lot of the symptoms of attention deficiencies, such as lack of focus and impulsive behavior, are the same as many sleep disorders.

In adults, the symptoms of sleep disorders resemble the symptoms of adult ADD. A lot of the overlapping are difficulty focusing, forgetfulness, lack of concentration, problem paying attention, short attention span, irritability, lack of impulse control, mood swings, depression, learning difficulties, and risky behavior.

In children, the symptoms of sleep deprivation resemble the symptoms of ADHD. Children who struggle with sleep disorders often have trouble focusing, sitting still, getting along with peers, and are often hyper, moody, or obstinate.

It is important to know how sleep can affect behavior and attention so that they right diagnosis can be made. Take the following quiz to see if your attention problems might be linked with sleep issues:

  1. Do you have difficulty staying awake when sitting still, watching television or reading?
  2. Do you have difficulty concentrating?
  3. Do you have trouble controlling your impulses or emotions?
  4. Are you struggling to remember important information?
  5. Do you struggle to learn to information?
  6. Are you struggling to stay organized?
  7. Do you have difficulty completing every day tasks?
  8. Do you feel so tired during the day that all you can think about is sleep?

 If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be suffering from sleep related attention problems. Call your sleep physcian today to make an appointment to  discuss your symptoms. 

Sleep and your brain

Quality sleep not only makes you feel better and full of energy, but it is also key in how your brain functions. Your brain is in “go-mode” while you snooze the night away.

While you sleep, your brain is hard at work solidifying memories and what you’ve learned from the day. Sleep also allows your brain the time to remove waste products from your brain cells so you can think and not feel foggy the next day.

Sleep disorders or deprivation can impair the parts of your brain that control cognitive abilities and behavior. Science shows us through brain imaging technology just how much sleep matters to how we function daily.

During an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), the brain of an individual who sleep normally will show normal metabolism and blood flow to multiple areas of the brain. An individual who is sleep deprived will show reduced metabolism and blood flow to multiple areas of the brain.

These reductions in metabolism and blood flow have been linked to difficulty focusing, forgetfulness, lack of concentration, problem paying attention, short attention span, irritability, lack of impulse control, mood swings, depression, learning difficulties, and risky behavior.

Your brain truly depends on a good nights rest so that you can function during your awake times. Your brain suffers greatly when you fail to get at least eight hours of sleep or if your sleep quality is poor from an undiagnosed sleep disorder.

Sleep disorders and attention deficits

ADHD_sleep.jpgThe first culprit to sabotaging your brain’s much needed sleep is poor sleep habits. Regularly choosing to stay up late or cutting out sleep can cause you to become chronically sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation in turn has a drastic effect on how your brain handles tasks that require attention and memory.

Sleep disorders are the other culprit in creating attention deficits. Poor quality of sleep can do just as much damage to the brain if not more in regards to attention and memory as sleep deprivation.

Sleep apnea has been highly correlated with the symptoms of attention deficit disorders. Apnea involves snoring and frequent, long pauses in breathing. If you suffer from sleep apnea, you more than likely will experience a range of attention symptoms caused by the lack of quality sleep you got. Waking up multiple times an hour throughout the entire night can cause fatigue, shortened attention span, moodiness, and short-term memory problems.

The symptoms of sleep apnea related to attention and memory are more serious than just feeling groggy from a bad night’s sleep. With apnea, you actually stop breathing for a period of time. Even just a few seconds of paused breathing can deprive your brain of much needed oxygen. Oxygen deprivation paired with your chronic fatigue can cause physical and measurable damage to your brain.

Other sleep disorders can interfere with your brain’s ability to pay attention and function during the day. These disorder include:

  • Nightmare and night terrors: If you are frequently having nightmares and terrors, sleep can be disrupted. Disrupted sleep causes problems with how you function during the day.
  • Restless legs syndrome: The sensation of having to have your legs in constant movement can cause you to wake up frequently through the night.
  • Insomnia: If you can’t fall asleep or stay asleep your brain isn’t going to get the restorative sleep you need in turn affecting your ability to function.

Helping your attention through sleep

The first thing to do if you suspect sleep is the culprit behind your memory and attention difficulties is to make an appointment with your physician. Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms and then help you decide if you need to be seen by a board certified sleep doctor to have a sleep study done.

There are a few things you can do on your own to help give your brain a chance at quality and restorative sleep. First, pay attention to your sleep schedule. Look for pattern’s in your sleep habits including what time you go to sleep and wake up. Are you making choices such as working longer hours or staying up to watch movies that cut into your sleeping time?

Remember, most adults need at least eight hours of sleep to function on a normal level. If you are purposefully cutting out sleep time to make room for awake activities then stop. Make sleep a priority so your brain and you don’t have to suffer each day.

Pay attention to snoring and breathing disruptions. Are you snoring loudly more than two nights a week or have you been told you stop breathing for a second or more? If so, then you need to get to your doctor to be tested for sleep apnea. There are several treatment options available that can help you sleep better.

Are you getting enough exercise? Lack of activity can interfere with the body’s desire for sleep. The more physical activity you get can help your body burn excess energy. Sleep comes easier if you have burned off energy during the day.

What you are eating also plays a part in getting your brain the sleep it needs. Eating a lot of junk food or drinking an excess of caffeine messes with your body’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Try changing your diet to include healthy and nutritious items so you can sleep better at night.

What you do before bedtime or falling asleep can also play a role in your sleep quality. Playing on your smart phone or watching TV to unwind before bed can actually make it harder for your brain and body to calm down enough to fall asleep. Try reading a physical book (not one downloaded onto a screen) to fall asleep. Other calming activities like going for a short walk or taking a bubble bath can also help you fall asleep.

Remember that quantity and quality of sleep can have a major impact on your health and well-being. If you are suffering from attention and memory deficits it is critical to talk to your physician about whether a sleep disorders is the cause. We understand that if you aren’t sleeping well you aren’t learning and focusing well. Call one of our experts at the Alaska Sleep Clinic so you can get control of your sleep as well as your attention.


Finally - Sleep Consultation


Subscribe to our Blog

Alaska Sleep Clinic's Blog

Our weekly updated blog aims to provide you with answers and information to all of your sleeping questions.

New Call-to-action
Got Sleep Troubles

Sleep Apnea ebook

New Call-to-action


Popular Articles

Posts by Topic

see all