Here’s How Little Sleep Can You Get Away With
The New York Times has an interesting article on the subject but the takeaway is here:
In what was the longest sleep-restriction study of its kind, Dinges and his lead author, Hans Van Dongen, assigned dozens of subjects to three different groups for their 2003 study: some slept four hours, others six hours and others, for the lucky control group, eight hours — for two weeks in the lab…
…Not surprisingly, those who had eight hours of sleep hardly had any attention lapses and no cognitive declines over the 14 days of the study. What was interesting was that those in the four- and six-hour groups had P.V.T. results that declined steadily with almost each passing day.
All told, by the end of two weeks, the six-hour sleepers were as impaired as those who, in another Dinges study, had been sleep-deprived for 24 hours straight — the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk.
Belenky’s nine-hour subjects performed much like Dinges’s eight-hour ones. But in the seven-hour group, their response time on the P.V.T. slowed and continued to do so for three days, before stabilizing at lower levels than when they started. Americans average 6.9 hours on weeknights, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Which means that, whether we like it or not, we are not thinking as clearly as we could be.
Still, while it’s tempting to believe we can train ourselves to be among the five-hour group — we can’t, Dinges says — or that we are naturally those five-hour sleepers, consider a key finding from Van Dongen and Dinges’s study: after just a few days, the four- and six-hour group reported that, yes, they were slightly sleepy. But they insisted they had adjusted to their new state. Even 14 days into the study, they said sleepiness was not affecting them. In fact, their performance had tanked. In other words, the sleep-deprived among us are lousy judges of our own sleep needs. We are not nearly as sharp as we think we are.
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