Effects of sleep loss linger longer than you think

It can take several days to recover after experiencing a few nights of little sleep, according to a new study. Researchers found that even a catch-up night of 10 hours of sleep may not be enough to restore many people after they have a few nights of bad sleep.

The study involved 159 adults who were assigned to sleep a certain number of hours a night. The participants underwent computerized neurobehavioral tests during the day to assess their cognitive function. Their results were compared to see how well they recovered after various amounts of sleep deprivation. The results showed that, after a few nights of little sleep, the participants were able to recover substantially after one 10-hour night of sleep. However, they still showed lapses of attention, sleepiness, slowed reaction times and fatigue that lasted for several days.

Previous research suggests that one 10-hour night of sleep is likely to restore people to normal alertness, but circadian rhythms make it difficult to recover fully after just one night, the authors said. Although a “recovery” sleep of 10 hours or more helps people function better, it may take several nights of sleeping eight to 10 hours to regain peak alertness during the day. However, if sleep restriction was less severe -- for example, suffering one four-hour night of bad sleep, it may be possible to recover fully after a single long night of sleep, the authors said.

The study, published Friday in the journal Sleep, has implications for people who work in jobs in which they have several nights of restricted sleep, the lead author of study, David F. Dinges of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said in a news release.

“Lifestyles that involve chronic sleep restriction during the workweek and during days off work may result in continuing buildup of sleep pressure and in an increased likelihood of loss of alertness and increased errors,” he said.

-- Shari Roan

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