You Can’t Cheat Sleep – Recovering from Sleep Deprivation


You can’t cheat sleep.  New evidence indicates that sleeping in on the weekend to make up for lost sleep may help you feel better but may leave you with a false sense of how well you can perform physically.


That doesn’t bode well for the millions of Americans who sleep six hours or less per night on average, estimated to be as high as thirty percent of the population.  According to the National Sleep Foundation the average adult in the U.S. sleeps much less than 7 hours per night.


Recent research published by Harvard researchers in a recent issue of Science Translational Medicine confirms that chronic sleep deprivation—habitually sleeping six hours or less per night—leads to a more rapid deterioration in alertness and attention for each waking hour, even after an extended ten hour night of sleep “catching up.”


This research clearly suggests that it takes longer to recover from sleep debts than previously thought. 


For those with chronic sleep loss, the erosion of performance accelerates after the day’s “second wind”, our body’s natural surge in alertness that occurs between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.  According to the study, subjects pulling an all-nighter had reaction times and physical abilities 10 times worse than well-rested individuals pulling the same all-nighter!


In “real life”, this study’s findings suggest that if your work week is only allowing you to get six or so hours of sleep per night, sleeping in on Saturday won’t “catch you up”.  Trying to stay up late on Saturday night, even with a solid 10 hours of sleep the night before, could leave you dangerously impaired.


So, if you think you can learn to “get by” on less sleep than you need, and that you’ll eventually be able to adapt to it by sleeping in occasionally, heed the advice of the research.  On average we need a consistent 7 ½ - 8 hours of sleep per night—every night—to be at our best.



Uncovering Residual Effects of Chronic Sleep Loss on Human Performance

Science Translational Medicine 13 January 2010:14ra3


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