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Recovering from sleep deprivation takes longer than expected


Sep. 10, 2021 Medical News Today

It is common knowledge that sleep is essential for health. This is true for virtually all living creatures. However, new research suggests that the ability to readily “catch up” on lost sleep later is more myth than fact. 

Investigators at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, carefully examined changes in functioning associated with sleep loss among adults. Their results appear in the journal PLOS ONE.

Participants spent 10 days experiencing partial sleep deprivation, getting about one-third less sleep than usual. This was followed by a full week of recovery. 

The researchers’ findings suggest that sleep deprivation takes a lingering toll on functionality. Deficits in people’s ability to think clearly tended to accumulate as “partial sleep restriction” progressed.

Catching up is hard to do

The participants did not easily recover from these sleep deficits — not even after extra “make-up” sleep on subsequent days. 

The amount of sleep that people need varies widely. On average, however, adults require at least 7 hours every day to maintain peak functionality.

Dr. Stephanie M. Stahl is an assistant professor of clinical medicine and clinical neurology at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. 

Dr. Stahl, who was not involved in the research, specializes in sleep medicine. In an interview with Medical News Today, she commented on the importance of this and similar studies.

“This study adds to a large body of evidence that insufficient sleep has detrimental effects on our daytime functioning,” she said. “This study in particular highlights that even a short duration of obtaining only 1–2 hours below our goal of 7-plus hours of sleep caused persistence of impairment, even after 1 week of obtaining sufficient sleep.”

A weary world

In today’s busy world, it is exceedingly common for adults to sacrifice sleep for work, entertainment, and other reasons. 

Many people underestimate the effects of this low-level, chronic sleep deprivation on their mental and physical health. A lot of people believe that they can “make up” for lost sleep by sleeping longer on the weekends, for example. However, the new research suggests that we may be greatly overestimating this ability.

In their paper, the researchers note that disrupted sleep has always been common in certain professions and industries, such as healthcare, entertainment, and transportation. However, many dayshift workers are now working from home, resulting in a “blurring of the boundaries between work and private life.”

Although the ability to work remotely has been a boon for many during the global pandemic, all is not well. “The disruption of the rest-activity rhythm is one of the common side effects of remote work,” the investigators note.

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