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Mommy Brain

Sleep deprivation

Allison McDowell-Enstrom, of Kenmore, Washington, nursed her son, Jackson, around the clock and blames insufficient shut-eye for the many memory lapses she suffered at the time. "Jackson had his two-month checkup, so off we went! When I walked into the office, something didn't feel right. I told the receptionist I was there to see the doctor, and she said, 'You mean dentist, don't you?' That's when I put it all together  -- we'd driven to my dentist's office!"

New information is solidified in the brain while you sleep, so not getting enough can affect your ability to remember things. "If you learn something in the evening, sleep on it for eight hours, and then are tested on it, your memory of it is likely to be 20 to 30 percent better than if you'd learned it in the morning and were tested eight hours later," says Matt Walker, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine compared the response times and memorization skills of people who'd slept for four, six, or eight hours per night over a period of two weeks to those who stayed awake for three days. They found that the eight-hour sleepers did fine, but the four- and six-hour ones performed just as poorly as the folks who hadn't gotten any shut-eye at all.

To get more zzz's:
* Though you may be sick of hearing it, sleep when the baby does: A 60- to 90-minute nap can work wonders on a sluggish brain, says Walker. (A shorter siesta may not revive brain cells; a longer one may interfere with your nighttime sleep.)

* If you can't squeeze in a nap, try to get to bed an hour earlier on most nights so you can get close to eight hours before the kids start to stir. Or take turns doing night duty with your husband.

* In a pinch, have caffeine. Whether it's coffee, tea, or soft drinks, it can temporarily help you be more alert and able to focus after a sleepless night. But too much caffeine can be counterproductive, leaving you so jittery you can't concentrate. For the best perking-up effect, sip such beverages in small amounts throughout the day.

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