How Insufficient Sleep Affects the Cognitive Abilities in All Ages –

Different reasons may disrupt a person’s quality of life. One essential but often overlooked cause is sleep deprivation. If not immediately addressed, sleep deprivation can impair your cognitive skills. You experience difficulties storing information, formulating quick decisions, and paying attention if you lack sleep. These cognitive deficiencies due to lack of sleep have been observed in children, teens, and adults.

In this article, we explore the negative effects of insufficient sleep on cognitive functioning and skills.


There were numerous studies demonstrating the effects of sleep on children’s basic cognitive skills. Sleep deprivation, poor sleep quality, and sleep disturbances were linked to mood swings, memory, and performance deficits, and compromised cognitive function in kids.

Weak School Performance

Sleep loss plays a role in limiting a child’s ability to perform at school. A study from the Department of Sleepand Cognition in Netherlands revealed that shorter hours of sleep had negative effects on children’s cognitive functions. Children with the least number of sleep showed poor academic performance.

Lower Nonverbal Intelligence

Sleep problems hamper the development of a child’s nonverbal intelligence. A study in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology explored the connection between sleep and language, attention, and memory development of young children. Frequent awakenings are linked with lower nonverbal intelligence. In other words, children’s nonverbal intelligence suffers if they wake up repeatedly at night.

Poor Memory

Shortened or disturbed sleeping interferes with the development of the brain. It makes daytime studying and learning more difficult. It also disrupts the consolidation of learning into long-term memory, which happens during sleep.

Delayed Verbal Intelligence Development

Sleep is also connected to kids’ verbal intelligence.

An experiment conducted in the Coventry University measured the children’s motor, language, and visual skills. Using equipment to measure the child’s breathing while sleeping, the study proved that oxygen level plays a key role in a child’s development. Children with the lowest oxygen level while sleeping had the poorest expressive language skill. Also, they had difficulties expressing their ideas thru words and sentences.


Adequate quality sleep is associated with better physical and cognitive development. By contrast, poor or disturbed sleep is related to the decline of cognitive functions in teenagers.

Lower Academic Performance

A study from the College of the Holy Cross and Brown Medical School revealed that students who slept late on school nights had lower GPAs than students who reported sleeping longer on school nights. Moreover, the group that slept late reported having difficulties concentrating. They also lack enthusiasm when it comes to studying. Because of their irregular sleeping habits, there is an increase in the number of sick days because of tiredness. These factors have contributed to their poor academic performance.

Poor Memory

A clinical review conducted by the University Medical Center in Germany shows that sleep facilitates the working memory of teenagers. The performance in abstract and complex tasks involving higher functions of the brain declines significantly when a teenager is sleep deprived. As a result, the teen’s ability to process simple memory tasks suffers.


Due to increasing working hours, adults tend to stretch their capacity to work at the expense of their sleep. Difficulty staying asleep, short sleep duration, and poor sleep quality are considered as potential risk factors for cognitive impairment in adults.

Poor Emotional Control

Adults with insufficient sleep suffer from poor emotional control. The amygdala, also known as the emotional center of the brain, is 50% more active when adults don’t get adequate sleep.

When you are sleep deprived, your amygdala detaches from the frontal lobe. Without the frontal lobe to regulate the emotional center, activity in the amygdala accelerates, making it difficult to suppress emotions.

Reduced Creativity

Sleep deprivation affects your creativity. A literature review by Killogre revealed that sleep loss degrades creative and innovative areas of cognition. His study also suggests that the effects remain even if you use countermeasures to perk up the brain such as tea or coffee.

Impaired Attention

One night of insufficient sleep is enough to impair attention. A study by Bocca, et al. found that attention levels decline after a night of sleep deprivation. The inability to sustain attention may lead to the reduction in productivity and learning.

Expedited Cognitive Decline

Cognitive impairment due to sleep disturbances is common for older adults. A study from the University of California showed that sleep disturbances contribute to the development of cognitive impairment.

Poor sleep quality and quantity are associated with cognitive decline as well. A study by Chen-Edinboro, et al. discovered that insufficient sleep is linked to cognitive decline. Sleep loss damages neurons which could facilitate cognitive decline in adults.