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Employer News | February 2017
Employer News | February 2017

Is 6 hours of Sleep Like not Sleeping at all?

If you have trouble falling asleep at night or staying awake during the day, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in four American adults has a sleep or wakefulness disorder.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School conducted a sleep study “to inform the debate over whether human sleep can be chronically reduced without consequences.” Essentially, they wanted to know if humans really need eight hours of sleep.

Test subjects were divided into four groups—those who slept eight hours, six hours, or four hours every night for two weeks, and those who stayed awake for three days straight. Each person was measured on sleepiness and how well their brain worked in a variety of tests, including on tests measuring reaction time and memory.

The well-rested group that got eight hours of sleep a night for two weeks did significantly better than any of the other three test groups which had their sleep restricted. The surprise was with the group sleeping four or six hours per night. They functioned as poorly as people who had been awake for 48 or 24 hours straight.  

“Sleep is absolutely essential for mental alertness and better physical health,” said Matthew Bartels, M.D., Excellus BlueCross BlueShield chief medical officer for health care improvement. He was not involved with the study, but agrees with its findings.

If you’ve been skimping on sleep, not only are you more tired than you think you are, but according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, you’re putting your body at risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and other medical conditions that develop over the long run.

The good news is that if you haven’t been getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night, you can pay it back to yourself slowly and over time. To get out of “sleep debt,” common methods include going to bed earlier or taking short naps to compensate, but weekend catch-up is not advised.

“Try going to bed 15 minutes earlier each weeknight,” said Bartels.

If your typical bedtime is 11:30 p.m., go to bed at 11:15 p.m. on Monday, 11 p.m. on Tuesday, 10:45p.m. on Wednesday—and so on.

“New parents are probably tired of people telling them this, but if at all possible, try to sleep when your baby does, even if that means going to bed at 8:30 p.m.,” said Bartels, who is a Board Certified pediatrician.

Bartels says it’s OK to take naps from time to time. But, he advises, the long-term solution is to get the proper number of hours of sleep at nighttime to prevent disrupting your sleep cycle.

If all else fails when it comes to getting more sleep, Bartels recommends talking to your doctor.

“If a patient is having trouble falling and staying asleep, I question the cause,” he said. “There may be a medical condition that is causing the sleepless nights.”

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