What Happens When Students Sleep Five-Hour Nights

Researchers have found that after a week of sleeping only five hours a night, teenagers suffered significant cognitive degradation.

AsianScientist (Mar. 7, 2016) – Researchers in Singapore have found that even partial sleep deprivation in teenagers can have a significant impact on cognitive function. Their work was published in SLEEP.

Past research has examined the impact of insufficient sleep on cognitive functions in adolescents. However, in these studies, the extent of sleep restriction was relatively mild in terms of the amount of sleep allowed each night. The number of nights of sleep was also restricted.

In their ‘Need for Sleep’ study, researchers at Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) evaluated 56 teenagers aged 15 to 19 years, as they lived in a boarding school for 14 days during their school holidays.

For seven nights, half of the participants received a five-hour sleep opportunity, while the other half had nine hours to sleep. This is the recommended sleep duration for this age group by the National Sleep Foundation in the United States. Participants’ sleep duration was objectively verified using electroencephalograms and wrist actigraphy.

In order to gauge their cognitive function, participants underwent cognitive assessments three times a day during the study. Those in the nine-hour sleep group either maintained cognitive performance or showed practice-related gains, arising from repeated practice, in tasks requiring arithmetic calculation and symbol decoding.

In contrast, those in the five-hour sleep group showed prominent deterioration of sustained attention, working memory, executive function, alertness and positive mood.

They also showed reduced performance gains with arithmetic and symbol-decoding. A sobering discovery was that two nights of nine-hour recovery sleep could not fully reverse some of these cognitive deficits.

“East Asian societies highly value academic achievement as a yardstick of success and the need to push harder and for longer is deeply ingrained. The present findings should cause students, parents and educators to reflect on how they use time more efficiently to allow for sufficient nocturnal sleep,” said senior author Professor Michael Chee.

“This would enable them to realize the benefits of the hard work they put in.”

The article can be found at: Lo et al. (2016) Cognitive Performance, Sleepiness, and Mood in Partially Sleep Deprived Adolescents: The Need for Sleep Study.


Source: Duke-NUS Medical School; Photo: Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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