But it’s easy to recover from that sleep deficit, right, especially if you’re young? A good night’s sleep or two — and certainly a full week of sleep — and you’re back to your fully functioning self?
“This is a well done, albeit small, study with multiple measures to examine the impact of partial sleep deprivation — mainly examining sleep duration using wrist actigraphy, EEG changes and cognitive performance,” said Dr. Bhanu Prakash Kolla, a sleep medicine specialist in the Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who was not involved in the study.
“Reaction times improved over seven days and returned to baseline levels while other cognitive tasks including accuracy did not completely recover,” Kolla said.
“What the study showed is that there are things like memory and mental processing speed that will not be restored that quickly,” said sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, who also was not involved in the study.
“Definitely, the major parts of sleep loss can be recuperated, but there are things that you’re just not going to get back quickly,” Dasgupta said. “That’s why it’s so important not to have that sleep debt in the first place.”
Your brain needs sleep
That’s because the brain needs uninterrupted sleep cycles to absorb fresh skills, form key memories, and repair the body from the day’s wear and tear. During sleep, your body is literally repairing and restoring itself on a cellular level.
A chronic lack of sleep therefore impacts your ability to pay attention, learn new things, be creative, solve problems and make decisions.
Even skipping sleep for just one night disrupts functioning.
In addition, 50 million to 70 million Americans struggle with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, insomnia and restless leg syndrome, which can ruin a good night’s shut-eye.
The CDC calls that a “public health problem,” because disrupted sleep is associated with a higher risk of conditions including high blood pressure, weakened immune performance, weight gain, a lack of libido, mood swings, paranoia, depression, and a higher risk of diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease, dementia and some cancers.
What to do
How long will it take you to recover from a lack of sleep?
“We do not know that exactly,” Kolla said. “This study shows that maybe some tasks, especially in younger patients, can take longer to recover following sleep deprivation.”
The key, sleep experts say, is to avoid becoming sleep deprived in the first place.
“We need to prioritize sleep and try and get at least seven hours each night,” Kolla said. “When we cannot, making sure that we have some time to recoup and being aware that the sleep deprivation impacts our mood and cognition is important.”
You can set yourself up for good sleep by not smoking and keeping alcohol intake to a minimum. Eating a well balanced diet, getting regular exercise, staying mentally active, and keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check will improve sleep as well.