People stay up late for many reasons, but a new study proves that a lack of sufficient sleep could greatly limit someone's cognitive abilities.

The Findings Of This Sleep Study

The act of missing out on sleep can make humans feel groggy, and it can greatly result in performance impairments, based on a new study. Being awake for a long time has less of an impact on this.

The study was published on May 21 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"If somebody is routinely awake for more than 18 hours daily, then they are also routinely sleeping for less than six hours daily. Therefore, it was unknown whether any decline in vigilance or other functions was due to the extended wakefulness or restricted sleep," said senior author Dr. Elizabeth B. Klerman. "We found that chronic short sleep duration, even without extended wakefulness, resulted in vigilant performance impairments." 

The researchers discovered that people with sleep limitations were five times as likely to experience cognitive issues, such as attention lapses, lower vigilance, and slower reaction times. A person experiencing these performance impairments would not be aware of them, but other people would likely notice them.

The data also suggested that people do not adapt to erratic sleep schedules and still function on a normal 24-hour clock.

Conducting The Study On Sleep

To gather the data, researchers found a group of 17 healthy participants to join the study. Nine of the participants were forced to stay awake for 15.33 hours and could only sleep for 4.67 hours in a 20-hour cycle. These cycles lasted for 32 days.

Meanwhile, a control group of participants followed a different pattern. Eight participants were forced to stay awake for 13.33 hours and could sleep for 6.67 hours within a 20-hour cycle. Their participation also lasted 32 days.

This precise experiment showed researchers that short sleep cycles had a greater impact on daily performance than wakefulness. The 15 hours of wakefulness experienced by the main group is actually what an average person receives, but the shorter sleep requirement was the unique factor. Between the two groups, the one with less sleep experienced more cognitive issues.

Future Implications Of This Sleep Study

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that one in three adults are not getting enough sleep. As this study proves, sleep is an important way to prevent major cognitive problems.

"Our study suggests the importance of longer episodes of sleep, rather than a 'split sleep' schedule, though further evidence would be needed to test this directly," said Klerman.

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