You Are Getting Sleepy . . .

Last night while I was watching the Giants game (and no, I don’t want to talk at all about that 9th inning, especially after Lincecum pitched so well), I was also skimming through the Pulse app on my iPad to see if there was anything interesting in the collection of blogs I loosely follow. And sure enough, io9 had a piece I couldn’t resist at this time of year: “Can You Condition Your Body to Require Less Sleep?”

The sleep study this article discussed compared the effects of total sleep deprivation with sleep limitation, specifically to 4 hours or 6 hours of sleep per night over 14 days.

Wait a minute! That’s almost exactly what I’m about to do for Summer Nationals!

Happily, the io9 article includes a link to the original paper—here’s a bit from the abstract:

Conclusions: Since chronic restriction of sleep to 6 h or less per night produced cognitive performance deficits equivalent to up to 2 nights of total sleep deprivation, it appears that even relatively moderate sleep restriction can seriously impair waking neurobehavioral functions in healthy adults. Sleepiness ratings suggest that subjects were largely unaware of these increasing cognitive deficits, which may explain why the impact of chronic sleep restriction on waking cognitive functions is often assumed to be benign.

It turns out that it’s not so much the lack of sleep itself that gets to us but the cumulative additional hours of wakefulness. So after several days of only 4 hours of sleep per night, you’ve got the same number of extra hours awake as someone who’s not slept at all for a couple of nights. It takes a few more days on 6 hours per night for the effects to hit the same level, but once you’ve added those extra hours of wakefulness to the cumulative total, it’s as though you’ve pulled 2 or 3 consecutive all-nighters.

And the kicker is that, unlike those who don’t sleep at all and normally feel like it, we limited sleepers are less aware of the effects. Although there is some awareness of feeling sleepier than usual for the first day or two, that wears off, so we think we’re acclimating to our sleep deficit. But we don’t adjust. The dire performance effects are still there—it’s just that the ability to notice we’re sleepy is one of those skills that are adversely affected, along with our other neurobehavioral functions.

This could explain why I’m never much bothered by the 3-hour time zone change.



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Filed under Cognition, Fencing

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