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A Good Night's Slumber Won't Reverse Chronic Sleep Loss
Date:1/13/2010

Deficits in functioning persist for those who frequently get too little shut-eye, study finds

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Chronic sleep deprivation and the impact "sleep debt" has on functioning and thinking cannot be reversed by one good night's sleep, new research suggests.

While a night of good sleep can make you feel and operate better in the short run, the ill effects of long-term sleep loss linger much longer.

In fact, "chronic sleep loss from six hours of sleep per night for two weeks causes a similar level of impairment as staying awake for 24 hours," said the study's lead author, Dr. Daniel A. Cohen, a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist affiliated with Brigham and Women's Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, both in Boston.

Chronically sleep-deprived people are "vulnerable to sudden sleepiness, errors and accidents," Cohen added, describing the vulnerability as something that won't disappear after a full night of "catch-up" sleep.

Cohen and his colleagues report their findings in the Jan. 13 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

They note that 16 percent of Americans are believed to routinely sleep six hours a day or less.

Such chronic sleep deprivation is thought to be most prevalent in professions that involve shift work and overtime, such as trucking and transportation, the military, the health-care industry and emergency-response organizations. Many such workers try to cope with long stretches of insufficient sleep -- and the safety hazards such sleep debt poses -- by sleeping for longer periods whenever they can.

But does this type of catch-up strategy help restore alertness? To find out, the researchers tracked the behavior of nine healthy men and women, 21 to 34 years old. Participants were put on a three-week sleep-wake schedule that involved staying awake for 33 hours, followed by 10 hours of sleep.

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