Sleep and Cognition

Learning, Attention
& Sleep Struggles

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC
From the Sleep Series

liftarn_A_person_sleeping_90x90I’ll Sleep when I’m Dead . . .

That’s how I used to think about sleeping when I was a young adult: a huge waste of time in my busy, interesting, already too little time to fit it all in LIFE.

To tell the truth, that’s how I sometimes still think about eating, bathing, going to the bathroom, in fact all of the “maintenance” activities of living.

In my hurry-up-there’s-so-much-more-to-DO experience of living, almost everything auxiliary to my current attempt to focus frequently seems like a necessary but unwelcomed interuption to what I liked to think of as “life” — as annoying as ants at a picnic.

But I know better now where SLEEP is concerned!

Sleep is a very ACTIVE state

While it seems logical to consider sleep some kind of “down time” recovery break — a time-out from our daily activities — research has shown that adequate, high-quality sleep is vital not only to optimize our daily functioning, but also to make sense of our daily activities.

Neural-housekeeping can’t be done until our brains slip into the sleep state.

  • That’s when memory consolidation takes place
  • That’s when our brains form the links to the information we need to be able to access on demand — to effectively carry out our waking tasks and determine appropriate emotional reactions to the events of our lives.

I like to think of it as the time when our brain’s sleep technicians repair shorts in our “wiring” so that we are ABLE to process effectively in our waking hours.

In an article from the National Science Foundation, neuroscientist Ken Paller says, “I think it’s fair to say that the person you are when you’re awake is partly a function of what your brain does when you’re asleep.”

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Robbing Peter to pay Paul?

When we slight the sleep state to use the time to get more done, it boomerangs.

Without sufficient sleep, we don’t allow our brains to cycle through all of the sleep-states necessary to clean up after the messes we’ve made all day, metaphorically.

Similar to trying to run a business in an office drowning in clutter, in a “messy” brain, everything takes longer to locate — and some things fall through the cracks entirely. We spend our waking hours chasing our lives instead of living them.

What the Research Reveals

A sleep study discussed HERE underscores the importance of sleep in learning and memory.

  • Research suggests that sleep plays an important role in memory, both before and after learning a new task.
  • Although there are some open questions about the specific role of sleep in forming and storing memories, the general consensus is that consolidated sleep throughout a whole night is optimal for learning and memory.

We need memory to operate effectively if we expect to retain our ability to attend and to learn – which becomes MORE important after our formal schooling is behind us, not less.

Science used to proclaim that the only side effect of lack of sleep that could be documented scientifically was underarousal – in other words, feeling drowsy, which made it difficult to focus with intentionality.

In fact, there once was a time when it was theorized that the unusually high correspondence between ADD and Sleep Disorders made it highly suspect that perhaps ADD was caused by (or a presentation of) a primary sleep disorder — underarousal due to some defect in the sleeping mechanism, most probably in the deep dream state.

We know NOW that there is SO much more involved, both with ADD and with sleep and its phases, but I think it serves us to keep these ideas in the back of our minds as we move together through the articles in the Attentional Syndromes and Sleep articles.

Links between insufficient sleep and struggles with cognition

My own struggles with sleep are especially bodacious – and my notoriously “slow boot” upon awakening is probably at least an indirect result of a lifelong failure to perform adequate nightly “neural housekeeping,” attempting to dovetail my much longer than 24 hour day with earth norms (click over to Living with JetLag for more about my kind of chronorhythm disorder). Burning_at_Both_EndsNot Good!

When our circadian rhythms are off-cycle, each of our bodily processes are negatively affected, including effective functioning of our metabolism and immune systems.

Science currently believes that a habitual lack of high quality sleep is a major risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome and more — in addition to that state of impaired cognition where we feel like we’re trying to run our lives and conduct our businesses in the presence of a persistent state of mental fuzziness.

Our short-term memory takes a hit, difficulties with follow-through domino from that sad reality, and life becomes like running a relay race in a swimming pool of partially set Jello™ — EVERYTHING gets tougher.

  • scientists have observed that the average sleep requirement for optimal functioning is somewhere around nine hours.
  • The national average is 7 ½ hours.
  • Which means that many of us regularly log even less sleep than that!

Normal Circadian Rhythms

Circadian rhythm refers to a recurring day/night pattern that includes many internally regulated physiological and behavioral variables in each 24 hour period.  Our circadian pacemaker is believed to be calibrated by a part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus [SCN].

The SCN is a small group of nerve cells in the brain’s hypothalamus.  It influences many of the rhythms of body and brain that occur over each 24-hour period, including the predictable roller coaster of internal temperature, hormonal regulation throughout the day and night, heart-rate, and a number of other variables that, in turn, produce and regulate the sleep/wake cycle.

Typical circadian rhythms persist under consistent environmental conditions, and shift predictably when conditions change.

YOU may not even be aware that your relationship to sleep is atypical.  Do you know what normal sleep patterns look like?

niteowlAs with just about everything else concerning the human race, there is no set-in-stone measure that precisely defines “normal.”

Among people with healthy circadian clocks, there are “larks” (“morning people”) and there are “owls” (“night owls”). Allowed to set their own schedules, there will always be people who tend to go to bed early and wake around dawn, as well as those who tend to stay awake into the dark hours, waking significantly later in the morning.

But whether they are larks or owls, people with “normal” circadian systems:

  • Are ABLE to awaken in time for whatever they need to do in the morning, and fall asleep at night in time to be fully rested before wake-up.
  • Are ABLE to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day when they choose to.
  • Are ABLE to accommodate the occasional late night or earlier than usual wake time and fall easily back in step within a day or two.
  • Are ABLE to adjust to a new sleep-wake schedule (being ABLE to fall asleep earlier at the end of the day within a few days of starting a new job that begins earlier, for example), feeling as well-rested as before within about a week of the change.

This adaptation to earlier sleep/wake times is known as advancing the sleep phase, and people with healthy circadian rhythms can advance their sleep phase by about an hour each day in response to time cues that are set, it is believed, by light.

Researchers have placed volunteers in special environments for several weeks, free of windows, clocks or other time cues. Without external time prompts, they were surprised to note that the volunteers tended to go to bed an hour later and to get up about an hour later each day.

Originally provided by Su-Laine Yeo ©1996-1998 –
for many years the primary i-net source for chronorhytm help

Normal Circadian Rhythms

These experiments seem to demonstrate that the “native” circadian rhythm in humans is about somewhere between 24:15 and 25:30  hours long.

To cooperate with earth’s 24 hour day/night cycle, the biological clock seems to need regular environmental time cues — for example, sunrise, sunset, and/or a daily sleep/wake routine.

Time cues are what keep our body clocks aligned with the rest of our world.  The successful shifting of “native” circadian rhythms to those that coordinate with earth’s 24 hour day is referred to as entrainment.

Discovering What Sets the Time Cues

  • In the early 1960’s, it was found that external control of the light/dark cycle (in addition to the administration of melatonin at appropriate times) modified the human circadian response (Wurtman, 1963a, b; Aschoff, 1965).
  • By the 1990’s, ocular visible light treatment led to effective treatments of circadian mood disorders (Roberts et al., 1992; Arendt, 1999; Van Someren, 2000a; Vetch et al., 2004). Endogenous (internal) melatonin release was modified in response as well.
  • In the 2000’s, a primary human circadian photoreceptor was located (Berson, 2003), and circadian photopigment first began to be identified (Provencio et al., 2000; Panda et al., 2002; Rollag et al., 2003; Hannibal et al., 2004; Foster, 2004).
  • The light spectrum believed to be responsible for circadian regulation (“entrainment”) had also been established, at least for neural melatonin modulation. (Brainard et al., 2001).

As a result, it became possible to define many of the positive and negative physiological effects of natural and artificial light sources on the road to devising treatment protocols for circadian disorders.

However, in order for these treatments for circadian dysfunction to be effective, we needed to understand what are sometimes referred to as the basic laws of photobiology.  

Articles to come will talk about those basics, and will review the basics of sleep stages and their underlying biology (including internal body temperature and hormonal regulation) — which will underscore the importance of allowing yourself enough sleep time to cycle through all of the stages (as well as offer a cogent explanation for WHY you find it harder to wake up some days).

We will also take a look at some of the startlingly NEW discoveries about the types of cells (and types of light) responsible for entrainment to light clues, EVEN among those who are legally blind.

So stay tuned.  This Series is about the Optimal Functioning of 1/3 of your life.

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(reblogs always okay, and much appreciated)

Graphics gratitude: sleeping by moonlight:
niteowl; candle burning @ both ends:

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IN ANY CASE, stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series (one-on-one couples or group), click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end (or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page). Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

You might also be interested in some of the following articles
available right now – on this site and elsewhere.

For links in context: run your cursor over the article above and the dark grey links will turn dark red;
(subtle, so they don’t pull focus while you read, but you can find them to click when you’re ready for them)
— and check out the links to other Related Content in each of the articles themselves —

Related Articles on

Other Comorbidities Articles

Sleep Articles ’round the ‘net

BY THE WAY: Since has been designed to be Evergreen, I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.


About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

15 Responses to Sleep and Cognition

  1. Pingback: Chrono-Crazy: N-24 vs. DSPS | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. Pingback: Impulsivity & Anger: Don’t Believe Everything You Think. – The Militant Negro™

  3. Pingback: Impulsivity & Anger: Don’t Believe Everything You Think | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  4. Pingback: Naps help Memory | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  5. Luann Bavin says:

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    • Thanks – glad you like it — spreading the word is what I’m about. Hope you’ll take time to look around.
      There’s *A LOT* here — as you may have read on the homepage (or my Gravitar bio), I’m a field founder – so I’ve been at this over 25 years now.

      Enjoy. (once lived in Nashville, btw – back even further, in my theatre days. Toured for the Barn w-a-y out on Highway 100.

      Thanks for stopping by (and commenting, so I know you did!)



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  8. click here to read says:

    Aw, this was a really nice post. In thought I wish to put in writing like this moreover – taking time and precise effort to make an excellent article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and on no account appear to get one thing done.



    • THANKS! No “should” about writing, but have you read the “procrastination” articles? You might be surprised and relieved to discover that there is something else going on, and that you will be able to ACTIVATE more easily after understanding a bit more about it.

      I will append the links to articles that can help below (but in the same “reply” box). I can promise that understanding alone will help your functioning, and that there will probably be a few suggestions that you can use (or adapt) to work around your challenges more effectively — and fairly quickly.

      MEANWHILE – explore the links included in THIS article (and the ones linked to those), both within the articles themselves and the “related content” at end of each one.

      Sorry for the delay in approval and response, btw. I have been at the ACO Conference [<==link] and *just* returned, playing catch-up as quickly as I am able.

      For me, managing at a conference (especially when I am one of the presenters) takes ALL available cognitive bandwidth, so I have *finally* learned to set my systems up in accordance to what I know, avoiding that “failure feeling” most of us know so well by avoiding overpromising and the resultant underdelivering (at least where keeping up with the blog during a conference is concerned ::BIG grin::)

      Thanks for visiting, and especially for letting me know that you DID — I DO answer comments as soon as I am able, but sometimes my schedule makes it impossible for me to do so in a timely fashion.

      I am rushing to approve and respond to a week’s worth of blog comments, so if you find this BEFORE I can take the time to suggest links to some articles that you may find helpful with your situation, be sure to bookmark and return.

      As I continue to say, you are NOT alone – what you report is something I have heard from MANY ADDults I have coached in the past 25 years (and experienced myself — still do sometimes!) Life does NOT have to be this hard – there are work arounds!! The trick is to find (or develop) the right ones.


      Links below ASAP


  9. Pingback: Natural Sleep Aids: New Technology | Ways to Cure Sleep Disorders

  10. karenalaniz says:

    This is excellent information! Thank you so much. Now, if I could only convince my teenager who has ADHD. Any advice on that?


    • Maybe hypnosis, Karen? (only half kidding) YOU can’t convince a teen of anything, right? (What do you know, you’ve only kept him or her alive so far.)

      Hmmmmmm – maybe print it out and leave it where s/he can see it, but sort of half hidden (like its supposed to be private?). When asked you say, “Oh THAT? Just some stupid thing from the internet somebody thought I needed to read” Catnip!

      Don’t be dismayed, it won’t last forever. You will have street cred again in another 10-15 years (or the birth of this one’s first child – whichever comes first!)

      If I could seriously answer your question, I’d OWN the networks!! Glad YOU liked the info! (the next sleep series article’s in draft – to post in a day or two)

      Thanks for stopping by.


  11. Pingback: TBI Recovery – like life on the high seas | Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind

    • In response to BrokenBrilliant’s pingback above (it clicks if you want to read it) –
      LOVE the article – reblogged (despite my promise to avoid that feature) — no time to “massage AROUND it” for an article too good NOT to spread.

      HOO HA – we’ll have to have a party on your “7 year” anniversary!!!



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