Total Access Medical - Direct Primary Care Blog

Recovering From Sleep Deprivation Takes Longer Than Expected

Posted by Total Access Medical on Sep 14, 2021

150209-sleepingwoman-stockIt is common knowledge that sleep is essential 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 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.

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.

This study adds to a large body of evidence that insufficient sleep has detrimental effects on our daytime functioning. 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.

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.

Modern life is increasingly fast paced, and the pressure to perform, produce, and achieve is ever-present. Although that may be good for worker productivity, it ignores a fundamental fact of human biology: We are diurnal creatures.

We have evolved to sleep at night and to be alert during daylight hours. Furthermore, we need a minimum amount of sleep every 24 hours.

Chronic sleep deprivation is a very under-recognized problem in our society. Sleep deprivation is a very common cause of poor concentration, inattention, and daytime sleepiness, increasing [the] risk of accidents, including motor vehicle accidents.

The problems linked to sleep deprivation do not end there. Many people do not realize how insufficient sleep can affect our health. Insufficient sleep can increase [the] risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, infection, and dementia.

A large study was published earlier this year in Nature Communications, showing that 6 hours of sleep or less on a regular basis [at the age of 50 and 60 years] increased risk of dementia by 30%.

In conclusion, the investigators found that the neurobehavioral consequences of chronic partial sleep deprivation cannot be overcome easily and last much longer than one expects.

In other words, we should not assume that one will easily and quickly recover to baseline following a period of sleep restriction by sleeping longer later. It may not be that simple. Deficits in our ability to think clearly and to function optimally may suffer.

This study provides further evidence that there may be a significant cost to prolonged sleep loss that is not easily recouped.

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