- Sleep deprivation is common among U.S. adults.
- It has also been linked to several health issues, including high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.
- A new study has found that after 10 days of deprivation, 7 days of recovery is not enough for people to return to regular function.
- Experts say people may also overestimate how well they have recovered from sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation is common in the United States.
In fact, the American Sleep Apnea Association reports that 70 percent of U.S. adults do not get enough sleep at least 1 night each month. Further, 11 percent report insufficient sleep every night.
Also, if you have been deprived of sleep for a while, it may take more than sleeping in on the weekend to make up for it, a new study suggests.
When people were deficient in sleep for 10 days, followed by a 7-day recovery period, the study found that the participants had recovered their baseline reaction speed. However, they had not fully recovered on any of the other measures of function.
According to study lead author Jeremi Ochab, PhD, an assistant professor at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, research has linked sleep deprivation to several important health problems, including cardiometabolic disorders such as high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes mellitus.
In addition, it has been linked to neurobehavioral issues such as lapses in attention, slowed working memory, reduced cognitive capacity, and depressed mood.
What was not known, however, was how long it takes to recover from periods of sleep deprivation. This is the question that Ochab and his team sought to answer.
Ochab and his colleagues performed a small study involving several healthy adults to learn more about this issue.
The study participants were asked to purposely restrict their sleep for 10 days.
Then, they were given 7 recovery days when they could sleep as much as they desired.
The study was performed in their usual environment, with participants wearing wrist sensors to track their daily sleep and activity patterns.
In addition, they had daily electroencephalography (EEG) performed to monitor their brain activity.
They also answered daily questions (Stroop tasks) to measure their reaction times and accuracy.
After the recovery period, the participants’ brain activity — rest versus activity patterns and accuracy on Stroop tasks — had not resumed its regular pace.
Their reaction time was the only measure that had returned to its previous level.
According to the study, sleep loss definitely affects us, possibly for longer than we might expect.
“Your actual performance in demanding tasks can be lowered,” Ochab explained. “And your patterns of behavior slightly disturbed, even for as long as a week, after an extensive period of partial sleep loss.”
Ochab also noted that your subjective feeling about how well you have recovered might not be accurate. He said study participants reported feeling that their usual mood and sleepiness had returned, even though tests indicated they had not fully recovered.
Kimberly Fenn, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University, who was not a part of the study, did note, however, that the study had a small sample size and should be interpreted with caution.
But, she added, it is consistent with what many sleep scientists believe: Insufficient sleep can cause long-term damage.
“I think that this study, and others, raise a critical question regarding the extent to which individuals are able to recover from sleep loss,” said Fenn. “Although the study is a bit underpowered and warrants replication, I think that it exposes the public to the dangers of sleep deprivation.
“Hopefully, it will increase awareness and encourage people to prioritize sleep,” she added.
Fenn said there are several things you can do to ensure that you are getting enough sleep.
Set an early enough bedtime
Most people sleep too little during the week and then try to catch up by sleeping in over the weekends, Fenn said. She suggests setting a bedtime that allows you to get enough good quality sleep.
According to the Sleep Foundation, that is usually between 7 to 9 hours for adults.
Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, comfortable, and quiet
A temperature between 65 to 68°F (18.3 to 20°C) is the most conducive to sleep, said Fenn. She said it is also crucial that your mattress, sheet, and bedclothes are comfortable.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol
Fenn suggests avoiding caffeine within 8 hours and alcohol within 4 hours of bedtime. While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it can also suppress REM sleep and cause you to wake during the night and have trouble falling back to sleep, she explained.
Avoid screens 1 to 2 hours before bedtime
Light suppresses melatonin production, Fenn explained, making it more difficult for you to fall asleep. Blue light emitted by devices like a phone can suppress it even more than regular light.