Can we train our brain to sleep better?

Lena Høyberg

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Do you suffer from sleep deprivation from time to time? According to new research you can train your brain to catch up on sleep that you have lost during a period of time. So just relax – you don’t need eight hours of sleep every night. The brain can function optimally by catching up later. At least that’s what Dr Chow says.

This new research was recently published in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep, and written by Dr Chin Moi Chow who has worked together with Shi Wong and Dr Mark Halaki at the faculty of health at the University of Sydney.

The researchers believe that the need of sleep vary depending on how much you compensate. They believe that the mechanism that controls the sleep balance is based on daily life. Their experiment has been done on young men with good health.

“The need for sleep varies and if you suffer from lack of sleep, your body will give you signs that tell you to catch up on it. And when you’re catching up on this sleep the possibilities increases in order to stay awake longer,” says Dr Chow to Heathcanal.com.

These are the signs of lacking sleep:

  • You are in a bad mood
  • You have trouble falling asleep at night
  • You find it difficult to get up at the times you want to
  • You feel very tired and under the weather in the morning
  • You fall asleep during the day, at times you wish to be awake

Source: National center for sleep disorders, sov.no, Haukeland University Hospital.

Not everybody agrees with the new research

It is recommended that we get seven and a half hours of sleep each night. Sleep expert and professor at the University of Bergen in Norway, Bjørn Bjorvatn, is rejecting the research that shows that we can catch up on sleep.

“I really doubt this result. The reason is that almost every research report that I have read says the opposite,” says Bjorvatn.

He believes that we can make up some lost sleep, which is fairly common to do on the weekends, but it’s not optimal to make this a habit. Bjorvatn is opposed to the research result until more studies claim the same.

“Different from what we already know”

“The results are very different from the knowledge we already have. It is common that most adults are lacking sleep during the week but this is not dangerous. On the other hand; I would not advice people to sleep too little,” says the sleep expert.

Too little sleep leads to negative health, and could result in diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

“Sleeping longer on the weekends is not enough to compensate for this risk,” says Bjorvatn.

That said; let’s look at the consequences of sleep deprivation.

In the short term:

  • Decreased Performance and Alertness: Sleep deprivation induces significant reductions in performance and alertness. Reducing your nighttime sleep by as little as one and a half hours for just one night could result in a reduction of daytime alertness by as much as 32%.
  • Memory and Cognitive Impairment: Decreased alertness and excessive daytime sleepiness impair your ability to think and process information.
  • Stress relationships: Disruption of a bed partner’s sleep due to a sleep disorder may cause significant problems for the relationship (for example, separate bedrooms, conflicts, moodiness, etc.).
  • Poor Quality of Life: You might, for example, be unable to participate in certain activities that require sustained attention, like going to the movies, seeing your child in a school play, or watching a favorite TV show.
  • Occupational Injury: Excessive sleepiness also contributes to a greater than twofold higher risk of sustaining an occupational injury.
  • Automobile Injury: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates conservatively that each year drowsy driving is responsible for at least 100,000 automobile crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities.

The good news for many of the disorders that cause sleep deprivation is that after risk assessment, education, and treatment, memory and cognitive deficits improve and the number of injuries decreases.

In the long term, the clinical consequences of untreated sleep disorders are large indeed. These are some serious medical illnesses that can be caused by lack of sleep:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • Psychiatric problems, including depression and other mood disorders
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  • Mental impairment
  • Fetal and childhood growth retardation
  • Injury from accidents

Source: Michael J. Breus, PhD. WebMD Feature.

Another doctor doubts the fresh research

“This study does not show that we have a greater ability to catch up on sleep than previously believed. We already know that a night of little sleep can be caught up on the night after by sleeping more efficiently. This can be objectively measured as a higher percentage of sleep with calm brain activity,” said Harald Hrubos-Strøm, the doctor in charge at Oslo Sleep Center.

He sees only one new discovery with this research; that there is a fixed, cyclic pattern of the length of sleep from person to person in a time frame of two nights.

“This is exciting news that we have to look more into – and not only when it comes to male university students,” says Hrubos-Strøm.

 

And remember – “A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”  

 

 

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Lena Høyberg

Norwegian journalist, 23. Studying at Griffith College, Dublin.