That’s a lot of people getting less than the recommended seven-plus hours per night.
The symptoms of being sleep deprived are well known to anyone who’s pulled an all-nighter or recently had a baby.
The most common effect of too little sleep is sleepiness, of course, but also moodiness and brain “fog” — the general inability to think straight or remember anything.
A new study explains why your brain feels so foggy if you don’t get enough sleep.
According to researchers, sleep deprivation disrupts our brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other, leading to temporary mental lapses that affect memory and visual perception.
In the study, the brains of sleep-deprived patients with epilepsy were observed as they performed tests that measured perceptiveness.
The results showed that lack of sleep interfered with the neurons’ ability to encode information and translate visual input into conscious thought.
According to the study’s authors, this helps explains why a tired driver would be at risk for causing an accident. Noticing a pedestrian stepping in front of a car, for instance, would take a sleep-deprived driver’s brain longer to register what they’re perceiving.
So, what can you do if you’ve suffering from lack of sleep and foggy brain — besides get more sleep?
“There are no shortcuts for counteracting sleep deficiency,” Dr. Chunbai Zhang, a sleep specialist at UW Medicine/Valley Medical Center, told Healthline. “Prescription drugs such as Provigil or Nuvigil and caffeine may help but only for a short duration.”
Still, duties and our daily activities sometimes require performing despite our body’s desire to get back into bed.
Here are a few tips for getting through the day.
Take a cold shower
A shock to your system may wake you fully as it will increase your heart rate and the flow of oxygen.
Eat smaller meals
Your body needs fuel, so eat protein-rich foods such as eggs or plain Greek-style yogurt. But be careful about portion sizes. Your brain’s slowed reaction times will make it easier to ignore your satiety signals, making you prone to overeat.
Avoid sugary snacks and simple carbs
Another symptom of sleep deprivation is sugar craving. Over the long term, sleep deficit can cause weight gain. Opt for fruit if you must have something sweet — the natural sugars of fruit take longer to digest and won’t make you crash as hard.
Drink more water
Dehydration contributes to fatigue, so drink more water than you usually would. The additional liquid intake will also cause more frequent trips to the restroom. But getting up and making the short trip to relieve yourself can help with alertness.
Expose yourself to light
Light controls our circadian system and stimulates the parts of our brain involved with attention and emotion regulation. Natural light helps boost mood and energy.
Take a walk or go to the gym to boost your energy and adrenaline levels and speed up your metabolism. “Get moving,” Marc I. Leavey, MD, a primary care provider and sleep expert at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, told Healthline. “Some exercise, gentle or vigorous, can help get things moving and clear away some of the fog.”
Chewing gum — especially mint-flavored gum — can relieve daytime sleepiness and improve alertness, at least temporarily.
Listen to music
“Music can help, a nice tempo in the mode one likes,” Leavey said. Listening to favorite songsalters the connectivity between auditory brain areas and a region responsible for memory.