How Sleep Deprivation Impairs Your Focus

There’s a reason you’re encouraged to get a good night’s sleep before a big day, like a presentation, test, or marathon. Sleep can have a major impact on your energy, focus, and overall mental clarity. When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re not working at your best, and your focus can suffer.

Sleep Deprivation Means Cognitive Performance Suffers

Research indicates sleep deprivation can cause adverse reactions in cognitive performance. These include impaired attention, working memory, and lowered ability in long term memory and decision making. Partial sleep deprivation, which can occur on an intermittent basis, can have a particular effect on your attention, including your vigilance.

What Happens When You Can’t Focus

Losing focus due to sleep deprivation can be a major problem for productivity, mood, creativity, memories, and even your safety. It can certainly lower your quality of life over the long term.

Performance at work and school can be affected by a lack of focus. You may struggle to pay attention, complete tasks, or give your full effort.

You’re likely to be less creative and have fewer ideas. Your problem-solving abilities and high-level thinking may be impaired when you’re unfocused due to sleep deprivation.

You may struggle with retaining memories. Memories are solidified and transferred to long term memory when you’re sleeping. But if you’re not sleeping enough, you may be more forgetful and find it difficult to retain new information.

Inattention due to sleep deprivation can be dangerous. You’re more at risk for accidents at home, work, and especially behind the wheel.

How to Improve Your Focus and Sleep Well

If you’re concerned with productivity, you may think giving up sleep time to work more is a good idea. While hard work can be helpful, you’re likely spinning your wheels if you’re trying to do it sleep-deprived. Getting enough sleep at night can help you retain your focus and improve your performance.

Use these tips to sleep better and preserve your ability to focus well:

  • Maintain a bedtime routine and schedule. Consistency can help you make the most of sleep. When you have a regular schedule, your body knows what to expect and you may start to feel sleepy around the same time each day. The same thing happens with a regular bedtime routine. When you go through the same few steps each night, you can trigger a sleepy response that can help you start snoozing easier.
  • Give yourself time to sleep. Make sure you’re scheduling enough time to sleep each night. Plan ahead based on when you need to wake up in the morning and count backward, accounting for at least seven to nine hours of sleep, including the time to fall asleep and wake up.
  • Sleep in a healthy environment. Your bedroom should be quiet, calm, cool, dark, and comfortable. Ensure you’re sleeping on a mattress that meets your needs, and use a fan, white noise, or blackout curtains to achieve the perfect sleep environment.
  • Steer clear of sleep pitfalls. Some things can keep you up at night, like late-night caffeine or even a big workout before bed. Make sure you’re avoiding naps too late in the day, too. And avoid using alcohol as a nightcap. While it may help you fall asleep, alcohol can lower the quality of your sleep.
  • Get treatment for sleep disorders. If you’re regularly struggling to sleep and it’s affecting your focus, you may have a sleep disorder that needs treatment. Talk to your doctor about how you can manage sleep disorder symptoms and get a better night’s sleep.

Sleep is important to overall wellness and can have a profound impact on your ability to focus each day. Give yourself enough time to sleep each night and practice good sleep hygiene so you can make the most of your cognitive ability.

Written by Amy Highland who is a sleep expert at She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.