Healthcare News & Insights

The sleepyhead shift: Plain talk about sleep deprivation at work

Just how much damage are workers doing to themselves when they routinely get 6 or fewer hours of sleep per night?

More and more research into our sleep habits — and our ability to function on little shut eye — is raising some startling points. And the news isn’t good for those in health care settings who have to endure grueling schedules with long hours and irregular shifts.

There’s still a lot to learn, but researchers are coming to the conclusion that the few people who claim to be able to get by on just a few hours a night are probably kidding themselves.

In tests, roughly 10-15% of people still functioned well after 24 hours without sleep. Another 10% or so couldn’t function at all after one lost night of sleep. Everyone else was functional, but not at peak performance. But after two days, virtually everyone showed significant decline in tested performance.

Similarly, people who say they routinely only need 5-6 hours of sleep a night tend to sleep for at least eight when actually tested in a sleep lab. That’s not to say they’re fibbing about their hardiness.

Researchers believe some people simply cope better with lack of sleep, and so may perceive that they only “need” a limited amount.

That ability to tough it out is probably an inherited trait — one that would help identify people who might be better able to withstand regular duty on the night shift, for example.

But for now, perhaps the best advice is still an earlier “lights out” time and a warm glass of milk before bed.

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