Sleep Deprivation Leads to Trouble Fast
Losing Just 2 Hours of Nightly Sleep Hinders Thinking, Memory
Mahowald, professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School who was not involved in Van Dongen's study, considers these new findings on sleep deprivation very important. "This study clearly shows that mild but chronic sleep deprivation has very serious adverse performance consequences," he tells WebMD. "How many people are sleep-deprived? Just about everybody. Anyone who uses an alarm clock to wake up is sleep-deprived by definition. Their brains would have awakened spontaneously if they have accumulated the amount of sleep they need."
While some people can function fine on fewer than eight hours of sleep, most need to average that amount over time to keep mind and body healthy.
"These findings don't surprise me in the least," adds sleep researcher Teri J. Bowman, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the Nebraska Medical Center and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "Most Americans think they can beat the odds and cram more time into their schedule. In fact, they cannot."
While she and other experts recommend following "good sleep hygiene" -- maintaining a consistent sleep schedule averaging about eight hours nightly -- the fact is, slightly more than half of all Americans sleep less than that. But the good news is that you can actually make up for lost time. If you've missed out on some precious sleep during the week, Van Dongen suggests that you try to catch up over the weekend or whenever time permits.
"Although the mechanisms for recovery sleep are not fully understood, we know that when you give yourself a chance to recover by giving yourself more than enough sleep, you can quickly catch up," he says. "It's only the chronic sleep deprivation that will actually in the end cause major problems. While it's best to try to get eight hours or more a night, every night, if you can't, try to build in a couple of days every now and then to sleep longer."