New research in the US has found that sleep can be ‘banked’ in order to combat upcoming periods of intensive work where sleep can be difficult or scarce.
A team at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research tested two groups of volunteers, one of which was given extra sleep and the other ordered to keep their usual sleep patterns for a week. The entire group was given just three hours of sleep a night for the whole of the following week, and their performances in a range of tasks were analysed to determine whether there was any marked difference.
“They (the group given additional sleep prior to the test) showed less performance deterioration with regards to reaction time and alertness than the group that had been given the habitual prior sleep,” said researcher Tracey Rupp. “What we’re basically saying is if you fill up your reserves and pay back your sleep debt ahead of time, you’re better equipped to deal with the sleep loss challenge.”
In addition to the stronger performance during the sleep deprived week, the ‘pre-stored sleep’ group were found to recover quicker than the other group in the following days, further strengthening the case for the body’s ability to ‘bank’ sleep and the benefits in doing so.
The findings of the research are likely to be applied in the military, in preparation for intensive tours, but could also find interest in the business and academic sectors. Further studies on the issue will involve imaging systems to determine the brain activity during the test programme, in order to clarify the physiological processes that are occurring.
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