August 2nd, 2010
09:00 AM ET
Let's be honest: Sleeping eight blissful hours every night is nothing but a dream for most people, especially during the hectic workweek. Weekends and vacations provide the few opportunities our chronically sleep deprived population has to catch up on some missed hours of shut-eye. Thankfully a new study just published in the journal Sleep has found that those periods of "recovery sleep" are good for us and can actually undo some of the damage caused by sleep deprivation.
The study authors recruited more than 150 healthy sleepers, aged 22 to 45, who regularly slept 6.5 to 8.5 hours a night. None of the participants worked irregular shifts or had traveled internationally in the months leading up to the study.
To begin the study, each person slept 10 hours a night for two nights so the researchers could reduce any pre-existing sleep deficits. Afterwards each participant was only allowed to sleep for four hours a night, for five straight nights. The researchers constantly sampled their level of alertness and neurobehaviors throughout the day.
On the sixth night, each participant was granted a period of "recovery sleep" that ranged upwards of 10 hours. The study authors found that any period of recovery sleep restored the participants' neurobehaviors, including level of alertness and their ability to concentrate.
"You don't realize now just how far off normal you are or how much more alert you could be if you've gotten more sleep," says Dr. David F. Dinges, one of the study authors and Chief of the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
Dinges says people who chronically undersleep need regular recovery periods of sleep because most people cannot handle sleeping only a few hours a night.
But burning the midnight oil during the week and then crashing on the weekends is not ideal, despite the health benefits of recovery sleep.
"Getting recovery sleep is important and that may take more than a day, " saysDinges. "Don't get chronically sleep deprived in the first place."
Dinges says that despite society's frenetic pace, sleep should be a priority for everyone.
"It's a profound mistake of people to take for granted you can abuse the system endlessly at no consequence to yourself," says Dinges.
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