Sleep Deprivation: What to do

By M. Chris Wolf, PH.D.

We know from research that sleep deprivation can affect memory consolidation. As a neuropsychologist who attempts to identify the causes of memory loss in my practice daily; loss of sleep is always a consideration.

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What are the things that you can do to avoid sleep deprivation and improve memory. Well simply put, get a better nights sleep. Here are some of the things sleep specialist such as Dr. Jack Edinger (2008) believe help you sleep better and avoid sleep deprivation:

Rule 1: Select a Standard Wake-up Time

Changes in your sleep-wake schedule can disturb your sleep. In fact, you can create the type of sleep problem that occurs in jet lag by varying your wake-up time from day-to-day. If you stick to a standard wake-up time, you will soon notice that you usually will become sleepy at about the right time each evening to allow you to get the sleep you need.

Rule 2: Use the Bed Only for Sleeping

While in bed, you should avoid doing things that you do when you are awake. Do not read, watch TV, eat, study, use the phone, or do other things that require you to be awake while you are in bed. If you frequently use your bed for activities other than sleep, you are unintentionally training yourself to stay awake in bed. If you avoid these activities while in bed, your bed will eventually become a place where it is easy to go to sleep and stay asleep. Sexual activity is the only exception to this rule.

Rule 3: Get Up When You Can’t Sleep

Never stay in bed, either at the beginning of the night or during the middle of the night, for extended periods without being asleep. Long periods of being awake in bed usually lead to tossing and turning, becoming frustrated, or worrying about not sleeping. These reactions, in turn, make it more difficult to fall asleep and lead to sleep deprivation. Also, if you lie in bed awake for long periods, you are training yourself to be awake in bed. When sleep does not come on or return quickly, it is best to get up, go to another room, and return to bed only when you feel sleepy enough to fall asleep quickly. Generally speaking, you should get up if you find yourself awake for 20 minutes or so and you do not feel as though you are about to go to sleep.

Rule 4: Don’t Worry, Plan, etc. in Bed

Do not worry, mull over your problems, plan future events, or do other thinking while in bed. These activities are bad mental habits. If your mind seems to be racing or you can’t seem to shut off your thoughts, get up and go to another room until you can return to bed without this thinking interrupting your sleep. If this disruptive thinking occurs frequently, you may find it helpful to routinely set aside a time early each evening to do the thinking, problem solving, and planning you need to do. If you start this practice you probably will have fewer intrusive thoughts while you are in bed.

Rule 5: Avoid Daytime Napping

You should avoid all daytime napping. Sleeping during the day partially satisfies your sleep needs and, thus, will weaken your sleep drive at night.

Rules 6: Go to Bed When You Are Sleep, but Not before the Time Suggested

In general, you should go to bed when you feel sleepy to avoid sleep deprivation. However, you should not go to bed so early that you find yourself spending far more time in bed each night that you need for sleep. Spending too much time in bed results in a very broken night of sleep. If you spend too much time in bed, you may actually make your sleep problem worse.

If these first line non-medicine approaches do not work you may need a sleep study. Medication can help but is not recommended as a long-term approach.

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For more information about this topic consider these resources:

Sound Conditioner Sound Screen SleepMate Electro-Mechanical White Noise Machine by Marpac

Overcoming Insomnia: A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Approach Workbook (Treatments That Work) [Paperback] Jack D. Edinger (Author), Colleen E. Carney (Author)

The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night's Sleep (Harvard Medical School Guides) [Paperback]Lawrence Epstein (Author), Steven Mardon (Author)

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