Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The well-rested writer

I've been fairly sleep deprived so far this year.  I used to get eight or nine hours a night, easy, but I've struggled with getting enough sleep for the last year or so.  When I freelanced full-time it wasn't an issue, or even when I just worked my nanny job in the afternoons; but I worked a lot of hours at my nanny job last summer, and I've worked a lot since the start of the year, too.  And the way it's looking, I won't see a reprieve for a few more months, since I'm working a lot more hours this summer, too.

So I was amused to see this article pop up on my Facebook feed today:

Short On Sleep? You Could Be A Disaster Waiting To Happen

Heaven knows, I certainly feel like a disaster waiting to happen some days!

Of course, I'm probably not as short on sleep as some people are.  I still try for six or seven hours a night, and a lot of people I know -- particularly the insomniacs I know -- get considerably less than that.  But I function best on eight or nine hours, so it does make a difference to me.

The study found that depriving people for sleep for two days severely impacts their ability to think on their feet:
In one test, the volunteers had to click a button when they saw certain numbers and hold back when they saw others. Then the rule was switched.

The well-rested group did better on this task in general. But when the rule was reversed, none of the sleep-deprived volunteers were able to get the right answer — even after 40 tries.

"It wasn't just that sleep-deprived people were slower to recover," says Paul Whitney, a psychologist at the university who led the study. "Their ability to take in new information and adjust was completely devastated."
Interestingly, though, not all cognitive abilities were impaired by the sleep deprivation.
Sleep loss didn't affect all types of thinking. Everyone did pretty well on tasks that tested short-term memory, though the well-rested people did slightly better.

Since we can function fairly well in some aspects without sleep, people often don't realize just how much sleep deprivation can impair them, Whitney says.

If you can, he says, avoid making any high-stakes decisions when you're short of sleep, he says. And if you don't have a choice, take some extra time to make sure you're considering all the factors.
 It's a good reminder that lack of sleep can have more of an impact than we realize, especially when most of our tasks are ones where the impact of sleep deprivation doesn't show up as much.  I certainly notice a difference when I'm researching or writing about more technical topics, or when I'm tired and having a hard time focusing.

What about you?  Do you get enough sleep?  Where do you notice the effects the most when you don't?

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